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Acid Reflux / GERD

What causes pain in the sternum?

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Published: Tuesday, 28 November 2017
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What causes pain in the sternum?
What causes pain in the sternum?
Table of contents
  1. What is the sternum?
  2. Causes of sternum and substernal pain
  3. Symptoms of sternum pain
  4. When to see a doctor
breastbone pain is pain or discomfort in the area of the chest that contains the sternum and the gristle copulative it to the ribs. The sternum is placed near the heart, so galore people experiencing sternum pain may confuse it with more general chest pain.

Some people experiencing sternum pain worry they may be having a heart attack. nevertheless, in most cases, sternum pain is unrelated to the heart and caused primarily due to problems with the sternum itself or the near gristle.

In this article, learn about the causes of sternum pain and the differences between sternum pain and heart problems.

What is the sternum?

The sternum is sometimes best-known as the sternum. This flat bone sits at the front of the chest and connects to the ribs with gristle.

The sternum is part of the rib cage, a series of castanets that protects the heart and lungs from injuries.

Causes of sternum and substernal pain

The sternum is placed at the front of the chest and is connected to the ribs.

breastbone pain is normally caused by problems with the muscles and castanets near the sternum and not the sternum itself.

Pain felt just behind or below the sternum is called substernal pain and is sometimes caused by GI problems.

Some of the most common causes of sternum and substernal pain are:

  • inflammation
  • clavicle injuries
  • sternoclavicular joint injury
  • herniation
  • sternum fracture
  • acid reflux
  • muscular strain or bruise


Costochondritis is the most common cause of sternum pain and occurs when the gristle between the sternum and ribs becomes inflamed and irritated.

Costochondritis can sometimes occur as the result of degenerative inflammatory illness but may besides happen for no apparent reason.

The symptoms of inflammation include:

  • sharp pain on the side of the sternum area
  • pain that worsens with a deep breath or a cough
  • discomfort in the ribs

Costochondritis is normally not a cause for concern. nevertheless, people experiencing symptoms of inflammation may want to consult a doctor if their symptoms worsen or do not go away.

Costochondritis: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
Costochondritis is a condition where the gristle in the sternum becomes inflamed, causation pain. Learn about symptoms, treatments and outlook.
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Sternoclavicular joint injury

The sternoclavicular joint connects the top of the sternum to the clavicle. Injuries to this joint generally cause pain and discomfort at the top of the sternum in the upper chest area.

People experiencing sternum pain due to a sternoclavicular joint injury will often experience the following:

  • mild pain or swelling in the upper chest area
  • difficulty or pain when moving the shoulder
  • pop or clicking around the joint

Collarbone injuries

Collarbone injuries may lead to durable pain or limited movement in the shoulder and upper chest.

While the clavicle itself is not part of the sternum, it is connected to the sternum by gristle. Injuries to the clavicle may cause pain in the sternum area.

Collarbone injuries are often the result of trauma, so much as a car accident or sports injury, although infections or inflammatory illness can besides cause them.

Symptoms of a clavicle injury include:

  • severe pain when raising the arm
  • bruising or swelling in the upper chest area
  • abnormal positioning or drooping of the shoulder
  • clicking and grinding in the shoulder joint


Hernias may not be an apparent cause of pain near the chest. nevertheless, a hiatal herniation may cause substernal pain.

A hiatal herniation happens when the stomach moves out of its normal position up past the diaphragm and into the chest. Symptoms of a hiatal herniation include:

  • frequent burping
  • heartburn
  • vomit blood
  • a feeling of fullness
  • trouble swallowing

People with substernal pain and symptoms of a hiatal herniation should see a doctor for prompt treatment.

breastbone fracture

Like a fracture in other environment of the body, sternum fractures can cause a lot of pain. breastbone fractures normally occur as a direct result of trauma, so much as a car accident or sports injury.

People who believe they may have a sternum fracture should seek immediate medical attention, as the heart and lungs may besides be injured.

Symptoms of a sternum fracture include:

  • pain during inhaling or coughing
  • swelling over the sternum
  • difficulty breathing

Acid reflux or GERD

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid wears away the lining of the trachea (esophagus). This happens primarily in people with internal organ reflux illness (GERD).

Acid reflux may cause substernal pain and discomfort in the chest and is generally attended by a burning feeling.

Pain in this region can besides be caused by inflammation or a spasm of the trachea. People with GERD should talk to their doctor about how to prevent further damage to this area.

Muscular strain or bruise

The sternum and ribs have galore muscles attached to them. These muscles can be pulled or strained by severe coughing or strenuous activity involving the arms or torso.

Injuries or trauma can result in bruising to these muscles, which may cause them to ache.

Symptoms of sternum pain

breastbone pain is normally caused by muscles or castanets encompassing the sternum.

Symptoms of sternum pain vary depending on the cause. The most common symptom is discomfort and pain in the center of the chest, which is the location of the sternum.

Other associated symptoms may include:

  • pain or discomfort in the ribs
  • pain that worsens during deep breathing or coughing
  • mild, aching pain in the upper chest
  • swelling in the upper chest
  • stiffness in the shoulder joints
  • severe pain when raising the arms
  • signs of clavicle trauma, so much as bruising or swelling
  • difficulty breathing
  • grinding or pop sensation in joints near the sternum
  • frequent belching
  • heartburn
  • feeling too full
  • throwing up blood

breastbone pain vs. heart attack

People experiencing any kind of chest pain may worry they are having a heart attack. nevertheless, sternum pain differs from heart attack pain.

People who are having a heart attack experience specific signs before the heart attack itself, whereas most sternum pain starts suddenly.

A heart attack besides occurs with the following symptoms:

  • pressure, squeeze, or fullness in the center of the chest
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness

nevertheless, anyone who thinks they are having a heart attack should seek immediate medical attention.

When to see a doctor

While sternum pain is not normally serious, there are some causes of sternum pain that require immediate medical attention.

A person should seek emergency medical attention if the pain:

  • started as a result of direct trauma
  • is attended by heart attack symptoms
  • is persistent and does not improve over time
  • is attended by intense vomit or vomit blood

A person should besides speak to a doctor if the pain in their sternum gets worse or does not improve over time.

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