What Are the Causes of Xiphoid Process Pain?

Xiphoid process pain, or xiphodynia, is sometimes caused by trauma to the chest area, overexertion or heavy lifting, and can be associated with more serious conditions such as pericarditis, angina pectoris or myocardial infarction, according to Chiropractic & Osteopathy, as published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2007. Doctors have debated how common xiphodynia actually is, with some suggestion that xiphoid examination be routine for any patient with chest pain.

The xiphoid process is the smallest of the three sternum segments, says Chiropractic & Osteopathy. It is generally long and thin, but exact shape varies a bit between individuals. In children, the xiphoid process is composed entirely of cartilage, with the upper part ossifying in adulthood. Xiphodynia occurs when the xiphoid process becomes irritated, leading to pain in the chest, abdomen, neck, arms and head.

The 2007 Chiropractic & Osteopathy report highlights three specific cases of xiphodynia. The first case appeared to originate with a difficult childbirth, later exacerbated by a second child. The second resulted from heavy lifting when the patient used her abdomen to support a load, with the weight itself contacting the xiphoid process directly. The third case may have resulted from stretching during the patient's ballet class as a young child.

While most xiphodynia originates with overstressing muscles or irritating the xiphoid process, it is sometimes associated with life-threatening conditions, says Chiropractic & Osteopathy. The pain of xiphodynia is also similar to cardiac-related chest pain, and the two could be misdiagnosed for one another.