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Pushing Through the Pain

As American Heart Month 2012 comes to a close, I thought I’d touch on a health condition that temporarily altered my fitness routine at this time two years ago. It isn’t a heart condition, but it’s one that often mimics pain caused by a heart attack.

The condition is called costochondritis and it’s defined as an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone. This causes sharp pain in the costosternal joint, which is where your ribs and breastbone are joined by rubbery cartilage.

Chest pain is always scary, but what made my pain even more worrisome was the fact that I felt it on the left side of my chest and down my left arm. I experienced the sharp pain whether I was working out, climbing the stairs to street level from the subway or simply taking a deep breath. I also had difficulty breathing while working out even at lower-than-normal intensity levels on the elliptical machine.

The good news is after visits with several different physicians who ordered several different tests, I learned my ticker was in tip-top shape. In fact, the cardiologist who ran my stress test told me he doesn’t expect to see me again until at least my 50th birthday. As far as treatment, I took prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs for about two weeks and I altered my fitness plan. I had to give up boxing for six weeks. The repetitive jabs and punches put too much stress on my chest and shoulder region, which were pretty much in a state of constant, gnawing pain. I also avoided certain exercises like push ups and chest presses. Finally, I made a point of carrying my purse on my right shoulder instead of the left.

So, how does someone develop costochondritis? There isn’t one specific cause, but in my case my doctor believed it was most likely linked to resuming strenuous exercise too soon after being hit with a nasty cold and cough. Other causes include:

  • An injury such as a blow to the chest
  • Infection
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pain from other parts of the body, which is also called “referred pain”

Everything turned out okay in the end, but there is a lesson in all of this. I should have been smarter about this situation from the start. Ask any physician (my father included) and they’ll tell you chest pain should not be ignored. However, that’s pretty much what I did. I pushed myself to fight through the pain and exercise at the same high-intensity levels. That included weekly or bi-weekly boxing sessions with my personal trainer. In the end, I only aggravated the condition and ended up out of the fitness game for longer than if I had received a proper diagnosis and started the healing process sooner.

Part of being physically fit is listening to your body and not turning  a deaf ear when it’s trying to tell your mind that something is wrong. While we may not like to sit on the sidelines, sometimes rest and recuperation are necessary stops along the journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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