Breastbone pain can be caused by a number of different diseases, conditions and disorders. The goal of this video is to list and describe the most common causes of breastbone pain, along with their symptoms.
The breast bone is also known as the sternum. It's a flat bone in the middle of the chest and it serves two main functions:
It protects the organs behind it (including the heart and airways)
It connect the ribs to each other and to the clavicle (also known as the collar bone).
What most patients describe as breastbone pain can occur in the sternum itself, or it can present under the breastbone or to either side.
Depending on the cause, breastbone pain can range from "annoying but mild" to "stabbing and intense."
Causes of breastbone pain
The most common complaint involving pain in the area of the breastbone actually has nothing to with the breast bone at all. It's known as acid reflux.
When highly potent stomach acid regurgitates into the esophagus, it can erode the more sensitive tissue at the bottom of the throat. Since the esophagus is directly under the breastbone, the pain can feel as if it's coming from the breast bone. Acid reflux is better known by the more common name of "heartburn." It may also be a form of indigestion.
Trauma is a frequent cause of breastbone pain. It's very common in auto accidents where the breastbone absorbs the force of an airbag, a seat belt restraint, or - in older model vehicles - a steering wheel.
Fractures of the sternum itself are rare, but injuries can occur at the points where the sternum connects to the ribs.
There's a condition called osteochondritis dissecans which sometimes occurs near the end of the breastbone. It is generally caused by trauma and happens more often to young people who are active in sports. The exact causes of this condition are unclear, but it may sometimes be connected to a lack of blood.
As we age, joint pain becomes more common in the area of the breastbone and collar bone. When it occurs, it is usually due to arthritis or an inflammatory joint disorder.
Joint pain connected to the sternum can also result from straining during exercise, especially if you're lifting weights that are too heavy for you.
Muscle pain near the breastbone can also result from exercising too vigorously. Individuals who want to build their pectoral muscles so they can look good at the beach may risk muscle strains and pulls if they're not careful.
Organ related causes of breastbone pain
Angina, or chest pain related to heart problems, is often felt in the area of the breastbone. There are a number of conditions that trigger pain in this area, including coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack), myocarditis and pericarditis.
Diseases and conditions of the lungs and respiratory system can also cause pain that seems to be in the breastbone. Bronchitis, tuberculosis and pneumonia are all possibilities. These conditions, however, usually also cause pain in the area around the breastbone, not just in the breastbone itself.
Someone with serious breathing difficulties, like emphysema and asthma, may strain the intercostal muscles, which lie between the ribs. This can also be a source of pain near the breastbone.
Someone who is under psychological or mental stress, like panic and anxiety attacks experience pain near the breastbone. Once again, the pain would not be coming from the breastbone itself, but from underlying causes like muscle strain triggered by deep, rapid breathing, or possibly heart issues.
Anyone who has recently had surgery of any kind in the area of the chest may feel some residual breastbone pain.
Open heart surgery sometimes causes long term pain along the breastbone even after the surgery is over and the patient has recovered.
Less common causes of pain in the area of the breastbone might also include
Breastbone pain can occur at any time in life. Most of the time, the underlying cause is not life-threatening. However, if you have breastbone pain that lasts for more than a few days, or seems to be increasing in frequency or intensity, see you doctor for a diagnosis.