What Causes Sternum Pain?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 17 February 2019
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The sternum, also known as the breastbone, is a flat bone located in the middle portion of the chest. Sternum pain may be caused by a variety of conditions, including inflammation, joint disorders, or recent surgery involving the chest cavity. Treatment options for pain in the sternum are varied and depend on the direct cause of the pain, although over-the-counter or prescription pain medications are frequently used.

Costochondritis is a medical condition that commonly leads to sternum pain. Costochondritis is a medical term used for the inflammation of the area in the chest where the cartilage joins with the rib cage. The exact cause of this medical condition is not completely understood, although it may be related to chest infections or repeated injuries to the chest area. Rest and the use of anti-inflammatory pain medications are often used to treat costochondritis.

The sternoclavicular joint connects the sternum to the collarbone. When this joint is damaged, pain in the sternum may be the result. Accidental injury is the most common cause of this injury, and the pain generally occurs due to a dislocation of this joint. Pain medications and rest may help to ease the symptoms, but if the damage is severe, surgical intervention may become necessary.


Physical trauma, including fractures to the sternum or surrounding structures, are common reasons for sternum pain. Damage to the collarbone or the shoulder blade may cause pain to be felt in the sternum. Any of these bones are typically only fractured due to forceful trauma such as may occur in an automobile accident or an episode of intentional violence. Treatment for these fractures often requires surgery, especially if multiple fractures are present.

Patients who have recently had any type of heart surgery are prone to developing pain in the sternum because, during heart surgery, the chest cavity is typically forced open. The surrounding muscles and other structures may suffer bruising or slight damage as a result, causing pain and soreness that may last for several weeks or longer. Other medical conditions that may sometimes lead to sternum pain include overexercise, strained muscles, or injury to the ribs. Some types of cancer, such as breast cancer or bone cancer, may lead to pain in the area of the sternum. Although most cases of sternum pain can be medically treated relatively easily, it is important for the patient to obtain an accurate diagnosis so that the proper types of treatment can begin as soon as possible.


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Post 3

I had costochondritis last year. It was very painful. I had to refrain from exercise for eight weeks, and I couldn’t even take deep breaths, because this increased the pain.

The area became inflamed after I went out on a kayak. I rowed for hours, and I’m not used to that much exercise, especially in the chest area.

My doctor told me to apply heat to it and take anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications. He gave me a few pain pills, but he cautioned me to only use them when the other medicine wasn’t working.

At first, I had to rely on the pain pills to get through the worst of it. Within a few days, the anti-inflammatory pills were enough, and the hot towel I put on the area felt so good.

Post 2

@shell4life - Pain is pretty common in bone cancer patients. My grandmother had a lot of pain near the bone where her cancer was located. She also had swelling.

Though you should probably get checked for both kinds of cancer, your condition sounds more like bone cancer. Since the pain is over the top of your bone, that sounds scary.

My grandmother’s cancer was in her leg bone. She thought at first that she must have injured the bone somehow, so she didn’t go to the doctor for a long time. She just waited for the swelling and tenderness to go away. By the time she did visit a doctor, the bone cancer had spread.

Post 1

I have been having pain in my sternum, and I sure hope it isn’t cancer. The area has been sore to the touch for a long time now. The tenderness is between my collarbone and my rib cage, and it’s only over the top of the bone.

I don’t think it’s breast cancer, because my actual breasts don’t hurt. However, my grandmother died of breast cancer, so I’m thinking it might be time for me to get a mammogram, just in case. Doctors usually recommend that you wait until you’re 40, and I’m in my thirties, but since my risk is greater because it runs in the family, I might need to do it soon.

Then again, it could be bone cancer. Does anyone know if your actual bones ache if you have bone cancer?

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