Breastbone or sternum is a central point of the thorax (chest) which has more functions to the body. It is a flat bone which consists out of three parts called manubrium, body and xiphoid process. Laying on the front of the chest, it protects the vital organs such as the heart and respiratory airways. There are some symptoms that can be mistaken for bone pain, such as heartburn or angina, because of the structures that are beneath the sternum. But, in these conditions, the pain is not affecting the bone, but the structures that surround it. It can manifest as a sharp or a dull pain, in acute or chronic manner, but it can also appear with crackling sensations, which may indicate a fracture. It is important to discover an underlying cause to prevent any further damage and in order to implement prompt treatment.
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the junctions that are on the upper part of the sternum. It affects the part of the cartilage where the upper ribs join the sternum. The exact cause is unknown, but it can happen due to an injury, overuse of the surrounding muscles and tendons which stretch the breast bone. The chest pain can appear in a mild or more severe form, and it worsens with applying pressure on the rib cage. It is more common in women than in men, with the rate of occurrence about 70% vs. 30%. It is also frequently diagnosed in kids with prevalence in the 12-14 years of age. It usually starts with tenderness in the chest area, resolving in sharp pain which can radiate towards the shoulder, back and abdomen. If there is swelling, redness and fever included, it can be due to an infection.
Treatment. It involves home remedies such as ice application and rest. Also, it can be treated with over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Bacteria infection is treated with antibiotics. If the inflamed area doesn’t calm down, doctors may apply steroid injections to the affected area to reduce the inflammation and swelling. Another treatment for the pain if it’s causing severe suffer are local anesthetics.
Sternum fracture is a condition which is a common event in a car crash accidents. A steering wheel can add a pressure to the bone, resulting in breakage. It has a lot of risk of complications since it covers the vital organs and it can lead to bone damaging the soft tissue.
Treatment. Since it can be pretty painful, a doctor may prescribe you some painkillers (analgesics) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. It is recommended to avoid physical activity in a few weeks to let your bone heal properly.
Also known as a clavicle, collar bone fracture can happen when applying pressure to the bone structure. It includes car accidents, falls, sports trauma. All ages can suffer from this kind of fracture, but it is more common in children. It can be tender, red and swollen. If a fracture is more visible, it can present itself like a bump, rising under the skin. It could be accompanied by sagging shoulder and inability to move your arm.
Treatment. If the ends of the bone are not shifted and are lined correctly, you may not need a surgery. You should wear shoulder support such as figure-of-eight wrap to keep your arm steady and help with healing. If you have pain, you can take some painkillers, including acetaminophen. After the healing process, physical therapy is the key as you need to strengthen your muscles and increase your joint movement over time.
Heartburn includes acid reflux which can be caused by certain food, stress, medications, obesity. It is often mistaken for a chest pain, because of its position. It can be quite a severe stabbing pain, often thought to be a heart attack. Most of the time, it is not an alarming problem if it happens once in a while, but if it’s chronic and it presents a huge discomfort, you should consult a doctor.
Treatment. People can manage a discomfort with simple changing of lifestyle and daily routine. Avoid heavy food and eating late, elevate your head and avoid lying after a meal. If you suffer from obesity, strive for optimal weight. There are some medications such as antacids, H-2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors which can be used with a doctor’s prescription.
Some diseases can manifest as a sternum pain, which does not affect the bone, rather than the structures around it. It can be breast cancer, osteomyelitis, lung abscess, lung cancer, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis and pneumonia, myocarditis and pericarditis, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), anxiety attack, etc.
You should seek for a medical attention if it’s disturbing your everyday routine and you feel uncomfortable. It can be a sign of a more complicated disease and it can lead to some complications if not treated on time. There is always the risk of heart attack, so you should know the right symptoms to recognize it and act on time. If you experience some of these issues, you should consult a professional.
Knowing When to Seek Medical Attention
If you experience difficulty in breathing, followed up with high rate pulse, arrhythmia, cold sweating, jaw numbness, anxiety, fear of death or losing breath accompanied with strong, stabbing pain in the chest, you should seek for immediate medical attention. You may be suffering from heart attack.
If you are having a fever, swollen chest or arm area, accompanied with tender skin and redness, you should visit a doctor. There is a risk of some sort of an infection which should be taken care of and you should have antibiotic treatment as soon as possible.
If you have difficulty in breathing, swallowing, excessive belching and if the over-the-counter medications won’t help, you should seek for a medical care.