Sternum pain can have many causes, including joint strains, muscle injury, and acid reflux. Chest pains can also be a symptom of a heart attack, and you should not ignore them.

Your sternum, or breastbone, connects the two sides of your rib cage. It sits in front of many major organs in your chest and gut, including your heart, lungs, and stomach. As a result, many conditions that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your sternum may cause pain in your sternum and the surrounding area.

Sternum pain more commonly occurs due to your muscle, joint, or digestive problems than with your heart or the sternum itself.

Keep reading to learn the common reasons for sternum pain and when to see your doctor.

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The most common cause of sternum pain is costochondritis. This occurs when the cartilage that connects your ribs to your sternum becomes inflamed.

Symptoms of costochondritis include:

  • sharp pains or aches on the side of your sternum area
  • pain or discomfort in one or more ribs
  • pain or discomfort that gets worse when you cough or breathe in deeply

Costochondritis doesn’t always have a specific cause, but it is often a result of:

  • chest injuries
  • muscle strains
  • joint conditions such as osteoarthritis
  • autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis

While costochondritis isn’t a severe condition and shouldn’t cause concern, contact your doctor if the pain persists or if you have other symptoms that might indicate a more serious underlying condition.

Conditions or injuries to the muscles and bones around your sternum can also cause sternum pain, including:

  • sternoclavicular joint injury
  • collarbone (clavicle) injury
  • fractures
  • hernia
  • surgery on the sternum (such as open heart surgery)

These aren’t the only musculoskeletal conditions that may hurt your sternum but are among the most common.

Your sternum sits right in front of several major digestive organs. Conditions that affect your esophagus, stomach, and intestines can cause pain radiating in the chest’s center.

Acid reflux is when stomach acid flows up into the esophagus and causes irritation and pain. People refer to this pain as heartburn and commonly experience it after eating.

Heartburn usually goes away without treatment after a short time. However, persistent acid reflux may indicate a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Conditions that affect your lungs, windpipe (trachea), and other parts of your body that help you breathe can cause sternum pain.


Pleurisy happens when your pleura gets inflamed. The pleura comprises tissue within your chest cavity and around your lungs. In some cases, fluid can build up around this tissue. This is called pleural effusion.

Common symptoms include:

  • sharp pain when you breathe in, sneeze, or cough
  • feeling like you can’t get enough air
  • an abnormal cough
  • fever (in rare cases)


Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes that bring air into your lungs. It often happens when you get the flu or a cold.

Bronchitis pain can also hurt your sternum as you breathe in and out. It can last only a few days or weeks (acute bronchitis) or become a long-term condition (chronic bronchitis) due to smoking or infections.

Common bronchitis symptoms include:

  • persistent wet cough that causes you to spit up mucus
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • pain or discomfort in your chest

Flu or cold symptoms that can go along with bronchitis include:


Pneumonia happens when your lungs get infected by a virus or bacteria.

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • high fever
  • persistent cough

Anxiety or panic attacks happen when you suddenly feel fear, as if something dangerous or threatening is happening, with no reason to be afraid.

A common symptom of anxiety and panic attacks is a tight pain in the chest muscles – including those around the sternum.

Learn more about the link between anxiety and chest pain here.

Chest pain is a hallmark symptom of a heart attack. During a heart attack, people typically experience feelings of constriction around their whole chest, but this pain may manifest in more specific areas, such as the sternum.

A heart attack is life threatening. If you have any symptoms besides sternum pain that may indicate a heart attack, call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room.

Symptoms include:

  • chest pain in the middle or left side of your chest
  • pain or discomfort in your upper body, including your arms, shoulder, and jaw
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • having trouble breathing
  • sweating
  • nausea

Learn more about heart attack symptoms here.

See your doctor immediately if you have heart attack symptoms or symptoms that cause you sharp, consistent pain that gets in the way of your daily life.

You should also see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • sternum and general chest pain that has no apparent cause
  • sweating, dizziness, or nausea with no specific cause
  • trouble breathing
  • pain that spreads from your chest throughout your upper body
  • chest tightness

If you’re experiencing other symptoms lasting more than a few days, talk with your doctor.

Sternum pain can occur for many reasons, from acid reflux to physical trauma. The treatments for sternum pain will depend on the underlying cause.

Pain in the chest is a hallmark symptom of a heart attack. If you experience pain across the chest with any other heart attack symptoms, seek emergency help immediately.