Sternum Pain (Breastbone Pain): Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Sternum Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
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Sternum pain (breastbone pain) or any kind of chest pain can be a cause for worry in most people. This is because often, pain in the chest area is associated with heart problems or other diseases which require prompt medical attention. However, sternum pain is usually caused by inflammation or an injury to the breastbone. Breastbone pain is classed as noncardiac chest pain, meaning that the pain isn’t the result of heart disease.

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The sternum is also called the breastbone and it’s the bone in the center of your chest below your collarbone. The sternum is connected to muscles that move the arms, head, and neck and it protects many vital organs.

Of course, you should never ignore any kind of chest pain because it could be a sign of a serious cardiac problem. In this article, I’m going look at the various reasons for non-cardiac chest pain that is related to sternum pain. You will find helpful remedies and discover what you can do to get a relief from sternal pain and other related chest pains.

Symptoms of Breastbone (Sternum) Pain

Sternum pain can be caused by many various reasons. If the reason is an injury or inflammation then you may feel more pain if you apply pressure to the breastbone. You could also hear the sternum bones clicking. Sometimes the muscles and nerves connected to the sternum can cause pain, and stretching can make breastbone pain worse.

For example, some people have pain in their chest after eating. Other people may find that exercising, lifting weights, or running causes their breastbone to hurt. Sometimes, a person’s stressful lifestyle can be the cause of sternum pain.

Causes and Treatment of Sternum Pain

Heartburn / GERD

Heartburn is a very common cause of a lower sternum pain. Heartburn is another name for acid reflux and this happens when stomach juices come back up the esophagus. Heartburn is also one of the reasons for a stomach pain after eating.

The School of Medicine and Biomedical Services at the University at Buffalo says that this type of non-cardiac chest pain can cause pressure in the chest. A person could also have a burning sensation behind the breast bone and a bitter taste in the mouth.1

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GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a more serious form of acid reflux and can also cause severe pains in the sternum and chest along with regurgitating food, nausea, chronic cough and a sore throat.2

 

Many say that the pain from heartburn or GERD feels like chest pain or angina (chest pain or discomfort that occurs if an area of your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood).

Gastroesophageal reflux is also one of the reasons for having xiphoid process pain. Your xiphoid process is a small cartilaginous extension at the lower end of your breastbone, or sternum. The esophagus is found close to the xiphoid process and chest pain caused by GERD can also make the xiphoid process painful.

Doctors recommend to have any unexplained chest pain thoroughly checked out by a medical professional. If it’s confirmed that the cause of chest pain was acid reflux, there are many natural remedies to help relieve the discomfort.

Treatment

There are various home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help to relieve breastbone pain that is caused by heartburn or GERD.

Dr. Melinda Ratini on WebMD recommends avoiding foods that can cause acid reflux. Some of these are acidic foods like tomatoes, pepper, and citrus fruits, caffeinated drinks, decaffeinated coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and fatty foods. She also recommends eating light meals and not exercising or lying down straight after a meal.3 It can also be helpful to sleep with your head elevated.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can prevent heartburn, which in turn will help to reduce chest and sternum pain after eating.4 Baking soda helps to neutralize excess stomach acid resulting in less acid going back up the esophagus. Mix 1/2 tsp. baking soda in an 8 oz glass of water. Drink before a meal to stop heartburn and acid reflux which will help to alleviate breastbone pain.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) can also help to reduce acid reflux which is one of the causes of a sternal pain. All you have to do is mix 1-2 tbsp. ACV in a large glass of water and drink 20 minutes before a meal.

I have written about many other natural treatments for heartburn that can help you reduce chest pain after eating.

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Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers are another digestive problem that can cause pain and discomfort around the breastbone. Dr. Tim Kenny on Patient.info says that a stomach ulcer can cause pain just below the sternum. Other symptoms are bloating and nausea.5

Treatment

Ginger can be used to treat a stomach ulcer. A study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research showed that fractions of ginger were effective in inhibiting the growth of Helicobacter pylori – the bacteria that causes some ulcers.

You can make a refreshing ginger tea as a natural remedy for breast bone pain by chopping up 1-2 inch of fresh root ginger and letting it infuse in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.

You can also read about how to use Manuka honey, cranberry juice, and other natural remedies to treat helicobacter pylori.

You can also drink cabbage juice to effectively treat ulcers.

Costochondritis

Costochondritis can cause sternum pain because it is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). The pain is usually felt on the left side of the sternum but it can also cause a general pain in the rib cage.

The Mayo Clinic says that there is no clear cause for this type of inflammation, although it can be the result of injury, straining, or infections.6 For example, you could experience sternum and chest pain after doing sit-ups or lifting weights. Even moving heavy furniture can leave you with sternum pain.

Treatment

Most doctors advise getting enough rest and using heat / ice packs to ease the pain in the chest.7 It is also recommended to avoid unnecessary activities that could make the pain worse.

You can also try ginger to reduce the inflammation that is causing chest bone pain. A study published in the journal Osteoarthritis Cartilage showed that ginger extract was just as effective as ibuprofen in reducing inflammation.8

You can make a ginger tea from fresh root ginger to alleviate the pain around your breastbone as I mentioned previously. Alternatively, the University of Maryland recommends taking ginger supplements: 250 mg 4 times a day for pain relief.9

You can also use natural alternatives to ibuprofen to soothe sternum pain.

Arthritis / Joint Damage

Arthritis can also cause mild to severe sternum pain. Arthritis causes the joints in the body to become inflamed causing pain around your breastbone. Rheumatology expert, Dr. William C. Shiel Jr says that psoriatic arthritis can cause inflammation of the cartilage that joins the sternum to the ribs causing chest pain.10 Other forms of arthritis can also cause chest pain.

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Treatment

There are many natural remedies for arthritis that you can use to reduce inflammation and pain in and around the breastbone.

Omega-3 (fish oil) helps to reduce inflammation in joints and can help to alleviate chest pain caused by inflammation. The journal Surgical Neurology reported that taking 1200 mg per day of fish oil helped to reduce arthritic pain and was just as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).11

You can also try taking turmeric supplements to reduce inflammatory chest pain and soothe a sternal pain. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that gives it its yellow color and anti-inflammatory properties. Many studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin help reduce joint inflammation and pain in people with arthritis.12 In fact, one study showed that curcumin was just as effective as Ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis.13

It is recommended to take 400 to 600 milligrams of turmeric extracts (available in tablets or capsules) three times per day or as directed on the product label. Be patient when taking turmeric supplements: the full benefits may not be apparent for eight weeks.

You can also make a delicious anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric tea.

Arthritis can also be managed by your diet – please read my article “Arthritis – Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid” for more information.

Stress

Stress can also be a factor that can bring on noncardiac chest pain including breastbone pain. Although the stress in itself doesn’t cause the chest pain, it can intensify it.

A person who suffers from panic attacks can also suffer chest pain that is so severe it is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack. The Association of Medicine and Psychiatry reported that around one-quarter of people who visit their physician with pains in the chest have panic disorder. They say that chest pain caused by stress can be cardiac and noncardiac pain.14

Treatment

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Stress can be difficult to manage; however, there are many natural remedies that can help you cope with stress better. This can help you enjoy a better quality of life and help you to prevent sternum pain.

Passionflower can help to relieve stress and help regain a feeling of calmness. One study showed that passionflower is just as effective as some benzodiazepine drugs used to treat anxiety disorders.15 You can buy passionflower as a tea, liquid extract or tincture.

Valerian root is another powerful herb that can help reduce levels of stress. A small study showed positive results using valerian extract to help treat people with general anxiety disorder.16

Lavender essential oil is a very powerful oil that can help you relax and it is also one of the best essential oils for anxiety. One study showed that inhaling lavender oil can help reduce blood pressure and heart rate and has a general relaxing effect on the mind.17

Massage is a tried and tested method to relax and heal the mind. It can help to relax your muscles and relieve pain in the area of the breast bone.

Diet and exercise play a big part in our emotional well-being. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that exercise improves your mood by releasing endorphins into the brain making you feel better and sleep easier. It can also help you lose weight and make you feel better about yourself.18

Dr. Daniel K Hall-Flavin from the Mayo Clinic recommends eating foods high in fiber as well as fruits and vegetables. These help to improve your general well-being and can help cope with stress better. Grains like oatmeal, quinoa and whole-grain bread and cereals can help to increase serotonin in your brain – a chemical which has a calming effect.17

Please read my article about natural remedies for anxiety and stress to find out more information.

Fractures and surgery

If sternum pain is the result of a fracture or surgery, it is very important to follow the advice and recovery plan of the doctor or surgeon to help recover and avoid any complications.

Sternum Pain (Breastbone Pain) – When to See your Doctor

It is extremely important to see your doctor urgently if you think that you are suffering from a cardiac event. You should also be aware of the ten signs of a heart attack.

If your sternum pain gets worse and doesn’t improve, seek a medical advice as well.

Read these related articles:
1. Seven Types of Pain You should Never Ignore
2. Unconventional Signs of Breast Cancer
3. Causes of Right Side Chest Pain and When You Must See a Doctor

Resources:
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