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Why Does My Chest Hurt When Running in the Cold?

by
author image Krista Sheehan
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.
Why Does My Chest Hurt When Running in the Cold?
A woman is running in the snow. Photo Credit Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images

For some people, running is one of the most enjoyable activities. The sport simultaneously invigorates and relaxes you, warming up your muscles and energizing your heart rate. However, for some people, the sport causes aches and pains. While some people might feel the pain in their ankles or knees, others feel the pain in their chest. Chest pain while running in the cold can be the result of a variety of problems.

Asthma

In many cases, the cause of chest pain while running is known as exercise-induced asthma. According to Kids Health, “The cold, dry air that’s inhaled into the lungs during exercise is believed to be the main cause of exercise-induced asthma.” While running, your breathing becomes quick and shallow. As the air quickly moves through your mouth and into your lungs, it does not have enough time to warm up. For a person with exercise-induced asthma, this sudden intake of cold air irritates the lungs and constricts the airways, triggering the symptoms of asthma. Along with chest pain, the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Cold Air

Rapidly breathing cold air through the mouth and into the lungs can cause chest pain even if you do not have exercise-induced asthma. When you breathe air in through the nose, the small blood vessels near the nasal cavity warm and moisturize the air. As the moistened and warmed air moves down the airways and into the lungs, the body accepts it easily. However, most people breathe through the mouth while running. In this case, the air does not become warmed or moisturized. This cold, dry air irritates the airways slightly, but does not cause them to constrict.

Blocked Arteries

As explained at Dr Mirkin.com, some people experience chest pain while running because of blocked coronary arteries. As cold wind hits the face, the heart rate slows down slightly. Although this decrease in heart rate does not cause any immediate problems, it can eventually affect the body. As the heart rate continues to decrease, the blood flow to the heart also decreases. Since the heart receives its oxygen from the blood, a decreased heart rate results in a decreased flow of oxygen to the heart. According to Dr Mirkin.com, “If the heart muscle is unable to get all the oxygen it needs, it starts to hurt.”

Heart Problems

In some cases, chest pain while running might be caused by a serious heart condition, such as an aortic tear or heart attack. The aorta sits on top of the heart and delivers blood from the heart to the lungs, brain and body. If the aorta tears even slightly, the flow of blood to the entire body becomes disrupted. Similarly, a heart attack also immediately interrupts the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and body. Both an aortic tear and heart attack cause immediate chest pain, along with shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and radiating pain. Although running does not directly cause either condition, vigorous exercise might be the trigger. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately in either case.

Treatment

In most cases, you can relieve chest pain simply by relaxing. Once you stop running, the pain and tightness in the chest should dissipate within 10 to 15 minutes. If the chest pain is triggered by breathing in cold air, consider wrapping a scarf around your mouth while running. If possible, breathe through your nose. In the case of exercise-induced asthma, certain medications can help to keep the airways dilated, allowing for easy passage of air. Medications might also be necessary for heart problems. However, in the case of blocked arteries or significant heart conditions, it may be best to avoid vigorous exercise altogether, opting for less strenuous exercises instead.

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