When most people think of rib pain, they’re thinking of the type that comes from a fractured rib or a bruised rib. But a condition doctors call osteochondritis dissecans (often just called “osteochondritis”) can also cause ribcage pain and discomfort.
This condition doesn’t only affect the ribs. It can occur anywhere there’s a joint. Typically it occurs it in hips, knees, or ankles.
Osteochondritis dissecans begins when a piece of cartilage, along with a thin layer of the bone beneath it, breaks loose from the end of a bone.
It is different from other types of joint pain that often affect older people, like arthritis. It is more likely to occur in younger people such as teenagers and young adults – especially those who are active in sports.
Osteochondritis dissecans causes pain near the end of a bone. When it causes rib pain, the discomfort typically occurs where the ribs connect to the spine in the back or the breastbone in the front. The exact causes are somewhat unclear, but it generally appears in one of three circumstances.
1. Repetitive stress damage or injuries to a joint are among the most common causes. Since osteochondritis dissecans happens most often to younger people, it’s often the result of a sports injury (like a blow to the chest or back during football). Another classic cause for rib pain from this disorder is injury due to an accident (particularly an auto accident).
But, it’s not always the result of a single blow. Small, repeated blows over the course of time can add up and eventually begin to cause pain.
2. Blocked or obstructed blood flow is a second common reason. This results in a condition called avascular necrosis, which basically means the bone and the cartilage around it deteriorate and die.
3. Finally, there may be a genetic factor involved. Certain people simply seem to have a genetic disposition.
Rib pain is the most common symptom when the affected area is in the chest or back. Once again, the pain is likely to appear where the ribs meet the breastbone or the spine.
Pain may be especially apparent when you’re exercising vigorously and need to breathe deeply and quickly.
As previously mentioned, other areas of the body can develop this condition too. Affected joints don’t move as readily and you don’t have the normal range of motion. When it develops in joints, there’s sometimes a feeling of weakness, along with some tenderness and swelling. When osteochondritis dissecans causes pain in the front of the torso, it is sometimes mistaken for angina, or the chest pains of a heart attack. Pain in the upper back near the spine could seem like a symptom of gallbladder trouble.
Anyone who has the symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans should discuss them with their doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis is important because disability can result if it is not treated. When treating osteochondritis dissecans, your doctor will focus on restoring the joint to normal function while also alleviating or even eliminating pain. There are a number of treatment possibilities which may work, depending on the specifics of the case. Your medical professional will probably recommend one or a combination of the following options.
Rest, relaxation and avoidance of activities that may make the condition worse.
Normally, it’s a good idea to immobilize the joint that’s being affected. But if you have pain in the ribs, this is impractical, since you have to breathe. But you can certainly avoid activities – like athletic competition and vigorous exercise – that require deep, rapid breathing.
NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help relieve rib pain. These include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. They are sometimes better known by their brand names, which include Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and Naprosyn..
Normally, physical therapy will help in cases where joints have been affected. Rib pain can be somewhat different, however, so you’ll need to pay close attention to the instructions of your doctor or therapist regarding exercises.
Most doctors will try to treat relieve pain from this type of joint condition for three to four months before deciding on surgery.
If you get an early diagnosis and follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations, you raise your chances of returning to normal activities without fear of rib pain from osteochondritis dissecans.