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Treatment of musculoskeletal chest pain

Kristine Phillips, MD, PhD
Peter H Schur, MD
Section Editor
Don L Goldenberg, MD
Deputy Editor
Daniel J Sullivan, MD, MPH


There are many causes of chest pain that can be referred to as musculoskeletal. They can be separated into isolated musculoskeletal chest pain syndromes (table 1) and systemic disorders, the latter associated with either rheumatic or nonrheumatic diseases (table 2). The major causes of musculoskeletal chest pain are presented separately. (See "Major causes of musculoskeletal chest pain in adults".)

Musculoskeletal chest pain must be differentiated from chest pain due to potentially life-threatening disorders such as myocardial ischemia or infarction, pulmonary embolism, aortic dissection, or pneumothorax. The diagnostic approach to a patient with chest pain is presented separately. (See "Outpatient evaluation of the adult with chest pain".)

Therapeutic interventions for musculoskeletal disorders affecting the chest are generally similar to those for musculoskeletal pain elsewhere in the body. However, in the case of chest pain, a common patient concern, stated or unstated, is that the pain is due to heart disease, and this concern must be addressed as well. In this regard, the physical examination itself, particularly the examiner's ability to reproduce or exacerbate the chest pain by palpation or with various maneuvers, helps the patient understand the noncardiac nature of the problem. (See "Clinical evaluation of musculoskeletal chest pain".)


As mentioned in the introduction, there are many local and systemic diseases and disorders that cause musculoskeletal chest pain (table 1 and table 2). These causes are discussed in more detail elsewhere (see "Major causes of musculoskeletal chest pain in adults"). A brief summary of some selected causes follows:

Costochondritis and Tietze's syndrome are both associated with tenderness of one or more of the costochondral joints. Although there is some controversy over whether these two disorders are truly distinct, in this discussion the term Tietze's syndrome is used for the combination of pain, tenderness and swelling, while costochondritis is used when swelling is absent.

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 05, 2015.
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