Sternum pain is not terribly common but, since the sternum lies so close to the heart, any pain in that general area can very often be a genuine cause for concern. Sternum pain is just one category of chest pain, however.
There are a number of symptoms manifesting themselves as pain in or near the sternum. We'll look at some of these, with the idea of making a distinction between chest pain and sternum pain. Some types of chest pain are relatively harmless, but nevertheless worrisome, while others indicate a serious problem that demands attention.
Most instances of sternum pain are not particularly serious, although may be the result of something serious, for example an accident in which the sternum is damaged.
Heart-Related Problems May Be Confused With Sternum Pain - Heart problems can cause pain which often appear centered at or near the sternum. Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, can cause a sharp pain near the center of the chest, as can angina, in which the blood flow to the heart is being restricted. Angina can, at times, be felt as a sharp pain, but more often is felt as a pressure in the chest or a tightness in the chest.
The most severe of chest pains is apt to accompany a heart attack. When having a heart attack, there are apt to be accompanying symptoms, including a radiating of the pain outward, which is normally not the case if just the sternum is involved.
Once in a while, we can experience a spasm of the coronary artery. The pain may be mild or sharp, but usually goes away quickly. Again, this may have an appearance of something being amiss with the sternum.
Other Causes Of Chest Pain - Sources of pain in the vicinity of the sternum, other than the heart, include:
Heartburn, where the pain is felt right behind the sternum
Pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the lining of the chest cavity
Muscular soreness caused by fibromyalgia
Injuries to the ribs or a pinched nerve can also cause pain, which may center in the area of the sternum.
In short, it can at times be difficult to distinguish what is sternum pain, that is, directly affecting the sternum, as opposed to pain near the sternum, but actually having nothing to do with it.
The Sternum - Having come this far, let's pause a moment and take a look at just what the sternum is. The sternum, also called the breast bone, is a flat bone, located in the center of the chest, just a little under the surface of the skin.
The sternum serves as an anchor for the rib cage, and also as a shield protecting the heart and lungs, and several major arteries. The sternum is shaped somewhat like an inverted dagger. If you look at the underbelly of a crab, you'll see a bone having a similar structure.
The sternum has three parts, which in most adults are fused together:
The manubrium which is the top segment
The main segment called the gladiolus
The xiphoid process or tip, at the bottom
The top bone is connected to the first two ribs, the middle bone connects to the third through seventh set of ribs and also connects indirectly to the eighth, ninth and tenth ribs.
Sternum Fractures - Aside from possible fracture, just what could cause sternum pain? A cracked, fractured, or broken sternum is, of course, one cause.
The leading cause of sternum fractures is motor vehicle accidents, with the steering wheel being the main culprit, although seat belts can also cause injury to the sternum in the event of an accident (quite possibly life-saving injuries when you think about it).
Any sharp blow, including a punch, can damage the sternum. When the sternum does break, it is not always a clean break; in fact the sternum bones have a tendency to shatter.
Open Heart Surgery, A Source Of Sternum Pain - Those who have undergone open heart surgery know a thing or two about sternum pain.
In the course of open heart surgery, your chest is opened up and then wired back shut. The sternum becomes very tender, and you may be given a small, heart-shaped, and rather firm pillow to carry around with you.
Three things you should try to avoid during the first days and weeks following open-heart surgery:
With sneezing being the most feared of all. If you feel a sneeze coming on, the pillow is pressed against your sternum to lessen the pain accompanying the sneeze. The pain, while not lasting long, is nevertheless very sharp, and no fun at all.
After a few weeks, you can put the pillow aside. You never throw it away; it will have become a friend. Some who have had open heart surgery will experience sternum pain for a longer period. This often happens if, when wired back together, the sternum is misaligned. This misalignment usually is not large, on the order of a few millimeters, but is a source of sternum pain, although it will eventually dissipate and then go away completely. (continued...)