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Why Do My Lungs Hurt After Running?

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Why Do My Lungs Hurt After Running?
If your lungs hurt when you run it could be a pre-existing condition or the air you're breathing. Photo Credit Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

Running is supposed to make your lungs healthier, not hurt them. So you may question why you sometimes feel pain in your lungs after running.

Tiny particles in the air might be the source of your problems. You might be suffering from a pre-existing condition that you didn't know about, like exercise-induced asthma. It may even be as simple as not drinking enough water.

The Lung's Defenses

Your lungs do much more than store the air that you breathe in and out. They're very much alive and play as much of a role in keeping you safe from infection as they do in taking oxygen from the air. As the world gets more and more polluted, the lungs take more responsibility for filtering the air that you breathe in every day.

Read More: Lungs That Are Burning While Running


To keep you safe from pollution, viruses and bacteria, your lungs have an advanced built-in cleaning system. The inner lining of your lungs produce mucus, which traps particles that are dangerous to your body. This mucus is constantly moving up and out of your lungs to remove whatever bad stuff it's trapping.


Little hairs, called cilia, work tirelessly to push the mucus up and out of your lungs. Once it's out of your lungs you either cough up the mucus or swallow it. The important thing is that it gets out of your precious lungs so that they can do their job: get your body some oxygen.


Another defense system that the lungs have are called phagocytes. These little cells patrol the surface of your lungs and trap dangerous particles. If those particles are alive the phagoctyes eat and digest them. In more serious situations, white blood cells can help out the little phagoctyes by disposing of threatening pathogens.

Your lungs have an advanced defense system, but they're still vulnerable to damage from the air that you breathe. If the lungs get irritated during a run they'll become inflamed and produce extra mucus. Just above your lungs is a small tube called the bronchial tube. This tube can also get inflamed, which causes pain.

Read More: Why Does it Burn to Breathe While Exercising?

Irritation from Air Pollution

As the world became more advanced and people started to rely on fossil fuels for energy, air quality has deteriorated. While this shouldn't be a problem if you live in a rural area, city-dwellers are at risk for pollutants in the air. Chemicals like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and various heavy metals, are floating around in the air. A 2016 study in the Journal of Breathing Research confirmed that people who run in a city tend to have irritation of the airways.

When you run, the number of breaths that you take every minute increases dramatically, meaning you breathe in a lot of pollutants. This can cause irritation of your lungs, which is painful and can throw off your run.

Running in the cold can make your airways tighten, which is painful.
Running in the cold can make your airways tighten, which is painful. Photo Credit Nkarol/iStock/Getty Images

Exercise-Induced Asthma

Even if you've never been diagnosed with traditional asthma, you may be suffering from exercise-induced asthma. It's a little harder to diagnose and typically doesn't become a problem until you start working out. Running, which requires a lot of breathing, can set off your exercise-induced asthma.

If you have an asthma attack while running it will feel like there is a tightness and pain in your chest. You're feeling your bronchials, the tubes that lead into your lungs, contract. That makes your airway smaller so it's harder to breathe. It's a very serious condition, but is easily treatable by taking the right precautions and medications.

Dehydration of Airways

As you run and suck air into your lungs your airways can slowly get dehydrated. If you live in a dry, arid environment or are running in the cold you're going to be especially vulnerable to this condition.

The air you breathe in and out, if it's dry enough, can suck the moisture out of your lungs that protects it from dangerous particles. If your lungs get too dry they can flare up and start to hurt. They'll also produce more mucus than usual. To prevent this, make sure you take frequent sips of water as you run.

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