I'm doing a series of blog entries on my struggles with pinpointing the cause and the cure for costochondritis. During these next few weeks and months, I'm going to document the inception of my issues with costochondritis, my struggles with pain, what's helped and what's not, and my research on holistic treatment and--hopefully--a cure for this chronic condition.
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the sternum. It is often a temporary problem that some have, but for others like me, it becomes a chronic condition. Lifting something as simple as a full laundry basket, mopping a floor, or scrubbing a dirty dish releases needle-like sensations of pain along my sternum. Below is my story, followed by the research I am doing to combat this problem. I'm not satisfied with dulling the pain--I want it eliminated.
The beginning--trying to find the trigger
On January 24, 2011, I remarked on my Facebook account that I felt awful. I had awful reflux and just didn't feel good. I began looking into the possibility of Celiac's Disease, and began an elimination diet. On February 6 (almost two weeks into my elimination diet), I began to feel like I was losing my voice, I had a dry cough, tight-feeling chest and just felt bad. I also had a swollen type feeling in my throat, as if I'd eaten something that caused an allergic reaction. A ARNP at an urgent clinic thought she detected a lump on my thyroid and wanted me to have an ultrasound. A second opinion from my regular GP revealed no such lump, but a diagnosis of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux was thrown out there, which matched my symptoms.
Then sometime toward the end of February or early March I began feeling like I had a chest cold--bronchial tickling, coughing, feeling like I had glue in my bronchial tubes, and a low-grade temp that would come and go but didn't ever reach 100. I kept coughing to try to release the junk, but I couldn't produce a productive cough. That kept up for weeks--on April 18 I posted that I was beginning to feel better. However, in its place was a nasty pain in my sternum area from all of the coughing. The pain continued--it hurt to touch, it hurt to twist my body, it hurt to lift things. I began searching online (while I also was still trying to get answers from medical professionals), and discovered costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the sternum that can be caused from blunt trauma to the sternum and/or ribs, excessive coughing, a virus, and other things. Further research taught me that some people have it for a few days while others have it for years. Unfortunately, I was not part of the majority that only has it for a few days or weeks. More than a year and a half later, I still have it. Also during this time, I developed panic attacks and suffered from anxiety, because it was such a painful time. Costochondritis mimics heart attack pain, and when the pain was at its worst (especially at night), I would wonder if I was about to have a heart attack. On April 29, 2011, I finally had a confirmed diagnosis by my chiropractor of costochondritis. My GP prescribed Mobic.
Since those early days, I have learned that my costochondritis problems increase prior to menses, in the cold, sometimes on rainy days, and completely went away when I got pregnant this past May (unfortunately, the pregnancy ended and costochondritis came back about six weeks later).
Suggestions Made to Me
Allopathic treatment for costochondritis
The only internal treatment that was suggested to me was Mobic. It took several days for me to find relief. I was given the prescription for only a month, and when it was out, I was still in pain. I asked for another refill and was given another month's worth, but was under the impression that I would not be given more. After beginning to take the second month's worth, I began feeling better and decided to just use Tylenol and Advil as needed. The pain was manageable, but flared up if I did too much (just about any housework was too much) and also increased before my menstrual cycle.
Dangers of prescription drugs for pain relief
Doctors cannot issue a cure for costochondritis. There is no medication that will eliminate this problem. In fact, NSAIDs are well-known for causing more problems, specifically problems with the gut. I can vouch for that!! NSAIDs also block the body's synthesis of proteoglycans, the molecules that bring water to cartilage. So while you're getting pain relief, you're also depriving your cartilage of the moisture it needs. It's suspected (but not yet confirmed, not that I've found anyway) that conditions such as osteoarthritis can actually increase because of the lack of hydration.
I have been getting chiropractic care since 2008, and I continued with that. It seems to also help with the pain level.
Recently I began seeing a massage therapist, who has been progressively working on the incredible knots in my back. I went from having many many knots the first session, to only having a handful or two the third session. I've not seen a decrease in my pain, but at least the knots are going away. These are as a result of the chronic bracing that I've done during times of stress and pain.
Check back for my next blog entry about costochondritis soon!
My goal is to be whole and well again. The ultimate goal would be to pass on my findings to someone else battling this so that they can be made whole and well again, too.