Several different types of chest pain can be categorized as musculoskeletal chest pain; they are usually divided into two groups: isolated pain, and systemic disorders. The systemic disorders are usually divided into two categories, whether they’re caused by rheumatic or nonrheumatic diseases. Musculoskeletal chest pain is different from regular chest pain due to the fact that it can signal life-threatening disorders such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) or ischemia, pneumothorax, or pulmonary embolism.
The majority of people think that chest pain usually indicates either a heart attack or heart disease, but this not the case at all. The musculoskeletal shape of the thoracic wall is a common source and cause of chest pain. This type of pain is often confused with angina and other common chest pain disorders; however they are really quite different. The most common causes of this musculoskeletal chest pain are traumatic muscle pain – for example, a trauma to the heart wall or arthritis involving movements of the ribs, spine and sternum. Careful and detailed exams are required for diagnosis; however, this pain is usually caused by damage to the muscles and cartilage of the ribs and rib cages.
What else leads to this damage – and pain? One possible cause is costochondritis, which occurs when the bones and cartilage in the chest and rib area become inflamed, causing a tight, throbbing pain in the chest. Another very common cause of musculoskeletal chest pain is an injury. A heavy impact in the sternum or ribcage area can damage the ribs and chest causing the chest pain. Sports injuries or workplace accidents are likely culprits. Further problems which cause this type of chest pain include pain syndromes of the lower ribs, known by names such as clicking or slipping rib syndrome, twelfth rib, or rib tip syndrome. Fibromyalgia can also lead to serious musculoskeletal chest pain.
In most cases the chest pain will only last for a short period of time. However, depending on the cause and the severity of the pain it can become prolonged or chronic. The simplest and most common treatment for musculoskeletal chest pain is rest, often combined with a non steroidal anti inflammatory medication like Ibuprofen or Naproxen. Your health care provider may also suggest application of heat or ice, depending on how long the pain has been bothering you. In serious cases, you may be given a steroid or anesthetic injection to ease the pain and stiffness; however, this type of pain usually responds best to the rest-and-NSAID approach – along with lots of time to allow healing.