Muscle soreness in the chest when working out is fairly common, but if it lingers on after your workout is done that can be cause for concern. Most people who experience pain after working out are usually either beginners who have overexerted themselves or a more seasoned athlete who has worked muscles they don't normally use, according to the American Council on Exercise. If the chest pain doesn't go away in 72 hours, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms, such as heart palpitations or a squeezing sensation, call a doctor immediately.
Chest soreness that is caused by working out used to be attributed largely to the buildup of lactic acid, which is a waste product created by the muscles when strained. That notion has largely been left behind, according to the Health Center at Columbia University, because it has been found that lactic acid is already gone when exercise is finished. There are several theories as to what might cause the pain, the most predominant one being that muscles in the chest get micro-tears when working out. Overstretching and muscle spasms are other possibilities. Once the muscle or tissue heals after a few days, the pain goes away.
Typically, muscle pain in the chest will go away right after a workout ends, but there is a common phenomenon that can cause a delayed reaction. Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, doesn't typically appear until 24 to 48 hours after working out and disappears after 72 hours. Symptoms of DOMS include muscle soreness and tenderness, loss of muscle strength, and, sometimes, swelling and stiffness. The difference between DOMS and a strain or serious injury is that you can continue working out with DOMS pain without causing injury to the chest muscle. Although it is unclear what causes DOMS, researchers Johndavid Maes and Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico found that eccentric exercise movement, the lowering of weights, is the act that contributes to DOMS. Concentric exercise, the lifting movement, does not seem to be a factor in DOMS.
Stretching the chest muscles before a workout and after can help prevent soreness in some cases of chest muscle soreness, including DOMS. Avoiding lifting weights that are too heavy and keeping the lifting movements smooth and clean can also help avoid trauma to the muscles. Stretching the chest muscles can be done by placing the arm against a wall and gently pushing the arm away from the chest. Drinking plenty of water before, during and after working out can help avoid dehydration, which can contribute to muscle aches.
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help treat the chest soreness caused by DOMS. Massaging the chest or using pain-relieving cream can help soothe the muscles, as can soaking in a hot tub. Resting the chest muscles for several days will help speed the process of healing by give them time enough to rest and be repaired.
If there is inflammation, or if the pain lasts more than 72 hours, or the soreness is severe, injury of the chest muscles may be the cause. Call a doctor if these symptoms occur. Following the RICE protocol -- rest, ice, compression, elevation -- may help alleviate symptoms in the meantime. Rest the chest muscles, ice them, compress them with a cloth bandage or towel and keep your chest elevated. Although RICE is more difficult to do with the chest than the appendages, it can help. Although soreness is usually a muscular issue, an underlying problem with the heart, lungs or chest cavity may be the problem. If the pain comes with difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, a rapid heartbeat or pain in the center of the chest, call a doctor immediately.