Costochondral Separation: Treatment & Recovery Time

Costochondral Separation: Treatment & Recovery Time
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  • 0:03 Sports Injury
  • 0:40 Costochondral Separation
  • 1:33 Treatment
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

A costochondral separation can be painful. In this lesson, we'll learn what a costochondral separation is, what are some common treatments, and how long it takes to recover.

Sports Injury

Jim is a 59-year-old man who was playing football with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. He used to love sports but over the last fifteen years he has become very sedentary. It was a nice cool day and the sun was shining and everyone was having a great time.

During one of the plays, Jim got tackled by another guy. He immediately felt pain in the front of his chest and it was hard to take a deep breath. When he moved, he could feel a popping sound. Jim's wife took him into urgent care to see a physician. The physician performed an assessment and x-rays. He told Jim that he had a separated rib.

Costochondral Separation

In the middle of your chest is your breastbone, or sternum. Your ribs attach to your sternum at the costochondral joints which are made of cartilage. This picture shows the costochondral joints, represented in blue.

rib cage drawing

This forms your ribcage which protects your vital organs such as your heart and lungs. A costochondral separation, or separated rib, is when a rib detaches from the sternum at the costochondral joint.

This injury most often occurs in car accidents, sports injuries, or other circumstances that result in direct force to the ribs. Jim experienced the typical symptoms of this injury, which include pain and a popping sound.

Due to the nature of the injury, there are risks of more serious injuries along with the costochondral separation. The impact to the chest might damage the lungs or the heart. Jim was lucky and didn't have any further injuries.


Jim's doctor explains to him that this type of injury can take much longer to heal than a broken rib. It can take 2-3 months to recover from this, and it is essential that he follows the doctor's instructions to ensure that it heals well.

The first concern is managing the pain from the injury. It can be painful to breathe, cough, laugh, sit, or lie in certain positions. He recommends that he take anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, and analgesics, such as acetaminophen, to manage the pain. He should also apply cold packs to the painful area for short periods of time during the day to help with pain and inflammation.

The doctor also tells him he needs to avoid physical activity, such as football, heavy lifting, pulling, pushing, or using his arms above his head. He needs to get plenty of rest and allow his body to heal.

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