Chest pain after a workout is often caused by an injury, such as a strained muscle or a bruised rib. However, sometimes chest pain after exercise signals cardiac ischemia, a medical term that means your heart is not getting the oxygen it needs. When this happens, you need immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage to your heart. Don’t delay getting treatment while you try to figure out what is wrong.
Chest Pressure or Tightness
Generally, chest pain caused by an injury is sharp, stabbing and localized to a specific area of your chest. This type of pain normally subsides quickly, or it lasts for a long time without getting worse. Heart-related chest pain, which doctors call angina, typically feels like tightness or pressure in the center of the chest. It may radiate to other areas, such as the arms or the jaw, and it typically gets steadily worse over time. Alternatively, it may go away for a short time and then come back.
Jaw, Arm or Back Pain
Just as all chest pain is not the same, not everyone experiences chest pain in the same way. Many people who have angina or a heart attack don’t feel much pain in their chests at all. Instead, they describe a dull ache in their shoulders, upper arms, necks or jaws. Don’t be fooled by pain that doesn’t fit the typical heart attack scenario that you have seen on TV. Any sudden pain that occurs anywhere in your upper body that does not go away quickly is a reason to be concerned.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is the physical sensation of having trouble breathing or not getting enough air. While feeling breathless after a hard workout is normal, you should catch your breath quickly after a few minutes of rest. If your breathlessness persists or gets worse over time, it may signal a problem with your heart or your lungs.
It is not unusual to feel nauseous after a hard workout. About 30 to 50 percent of athletes experience an upset stomach or abdominal pain after intense exercise. According to Dr. Anne Thorson, a San Francisco cardiologist who specializes in women’s health, many heart attacks -- especially in women -- are characterized by mild upper-body discomfort and flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fatigue.
- Up to Date: Major Causes of Musculoskeletal Chest Pain
- Circulation: Sudden Death in Coronary Artery disease
- Harvard Health Publications Chest Pain: A Heart Attack or Something Else?
- American Heart Association: Warning Signs of Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest or Stroke
- PubMed: Is the Gut an Athletic Organ? Digestion, Absorption and Exercise
- UCSF Health: Interview With Dr. Anne Thorson: Preventing Heart Disease in Women