Costochondritis is one of my more recent inflammatory ailments which has arisen as a side-effect of my Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. I was diagnosed with it in the early months of 2013. I usually have a cute little anecdote to introduce each of my ailments, however the initial occurrence of this condition was clouded with not so fond memories which you will read about below.
Without further ado I will just jump straight in.
Costo – relating to the ribs
Chondr – relating to cartilage
Itis – a condition involving the inflammation of
From this you can see costochondritis is a condition involving the inflammation of the cartilage surrounding the ribs and rib cage. To be specific, as my doctors described it to me, I was suffering from inflammation in the spinal region of my thoracic cavity. Typically the inflammation occurs towards the sternum of the ribcage. However as I am atypical in most things my inflammation was in my lower thoracic spine, namely around the T5-T9 vertebrae.
The pain for me occurred only for a brief time in the spine and it was the worst pain I have ever experienced. And that’s saying something. I was in Geraldton and was out in the surf on my paddleboard. I was not feeling the most confident because of the stronger swell being something I was not used to. As we made our way out the back I became even less confident yet I was prepared to try.
We weren’t out long and I’d been knocked off my board a good number of times. My back started to tingle and my balance went askew. But I was being told to keep going and I was loathe to ignore it. So I stood up and put my Big Girl Pants on. I caught a wave but fell near the end and took a bad tumble. Too far from the shore to make an easy exit out of the water but in the middle of where the waves were breaking I had no hope of mounting my board again. I had to let the water berate and batter me as I struggled to find solid ground while my back screamed abuse at me. I genuinely thought I had broken a bone or torn a rib free off the spine. The pain was that bad.
On the beach were some friends from Sydney so I sat with ‘the gear’ while everyone else went in to the surf for a swim. I cried. Actually I sobbed. I rubbed my eyes really hard to make it look like I had salt and sand in my eyes to explain my appearance when everyone came back and we headed home.
A fortnight later the spinal pain was a mere memory. One day mid-morning I was spending time with my brother T-Dizzle and a spontaneous excruciating pain took over my lower internal abdomen. It felt like the worst period pain ever, except higher up. Or the worst stomach ulcer ever, except lower down. The actual location was difficult to determine and no heat pack or ice bag would ease the pain. Neither hunching into the pain or stretching out away from the pain eased the tension. My yoga twists and stretches had no impact. Painkillers and therapeutic oils had no effect. I was inconsolable.
When I managed to make an appointment with my general doctor (GP) Evs, I had to be taken by someone else as the days of agony did nothing to alleviate the pain or allow for enough ease for me to drive myself. Evs was able to explain absolutely everything with only one X-Ray and one ultrasound, and it should really not be a surprise at this point for me to tell you it was Costochondritis. From my initial debunking of the Latin name you can guess where the back pain came from but the abdominal ache is a bit more interesting.
The Nervous System of the body travels down from the brain through the centre of the vertebral column. At the site where two vertebrae meet some nerve roots and neuroforamen peel off from the spinal cord and wrap around the bones and muscles of the torso at that level of the body. As the nerves spread they encapsulate the outside of the abdomen and then dive backwards into the inner abdomen and internal tissues and organs. This is where the nerve endings are and this is how we end up with receptors and sensors in our internal organs.
The nerves ending in random and obscure areas within my abdomen were being compacted and squished completely at the site of the inflammation in the cartilage of my thoracic spine. As there weren’t nerve endings at these specific vertebrae to indicate the inflammation, the pain was referred down the neuroforamen to the nerve endings where they could relate the issue back to my brain.
The pain I was feeling in my ‘lower foregut’ was actually due to an issue 15 centimetres higher at the back of my ribcage.
I was referred to a specific physiotherapist near my home, with specific details indicating how to be treated. In short the muscles on either side of my thoracic cavity were softly massaged on a regular basis until they were eased enough to enable fluid to move and the swelling to go down. When the pain comes back I was to lie flat on my back with a heat pad under my spine and soft pillows either side to keep me level.
More information on this illness can be found at Patient.co.uk