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Why Does My Chest Feel Tight When I Run?

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 Does My Chest Feel Tight When I Run?
Chest pain while running can be a sign of a serious problem. Photo Credit comzeal/iStock/Getty Images

Chest tightness is always concerning, considering that in the worst case scenario it could be a warning sign of a heart attack. Thankfully, there are a whole spectrum of problems that aren't life-threatening that will make your chest feel tight when you run. These problems can come from your lungs, esophagus, heart, muscles and even your mind.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

You might not know that you have exercise-induced asthma until you start training as a runner. When you start running your breathing rate skyrockets. If you run a long distance you'll end up taking so many breaths that it can irritate your airways and trigger an asthma episode.

Exercise-induced asthma is particularly prominent in colder and more dry climates. The dry air can irritate your bronchials, which are the tubes that connect to your lungs that air passes through. Dry air often inflames them, which can make them constrict. This makes your chest feel very tight and can make it hard to breathe.

Read More: Relieving Chest Tightness With Yoga

The best way to prevent exercise-induced asthma is to run in more humid and warm climates. Taking constant sips of water as you run will help keep your airway moist. You can also try to breathe through your nose as much as possible, which will force air through your sinuses where it will collect more moisture before passing into your lungs.

Stable Angina

Angina is a condition where your heart isn't getting enough oxygen and your chest starts to hurt. This sounds serious and typically means that there is a serious problem, but in certain cases it can actually be benign. Stable angina is a condition where you feel chest tightness and pressure during exercise or a very stressful moment like an intense argument, but it doesn't last.

You'll feel the chest pain from angina behind your breastbone and it should only last between one and fifteen minutes, according to an article from Medline Plus. The chest pain should go away quickly after you stop exercising and start to relax.

Certain medications, like nitroglycerin, can relieve your stable angina. Since it can be a sign of a serious problem, make sure you see a doctor if you have any form of angina.

Read More: Tightness in the Chest After Exercise

Coronary Artery Disease

A more serious form of angina comes from heart disease. Your coronary arteries are the blood vessels that give blood to your heart. If these arteries start to get clogged with plaque, your heart will have a harder time getting the blood it needs to function.

Running can make coronary artery disease worse because your heart beats faster and needs more oxygen. If it's not getting enough oxygen you'll start to feel chest pain from angina.

This is much more serious than stable angina, however, and can even be a precursor to a heart attack. That's why it's important to see a doctor if you start feeling chest pain while running.

If you feel chest pain on a run you should consider seeing a doctor.
If you feel chest pain on a run you should consider seeing a doctor. Photo Credit KittisakJirasittichai/iStock/Getty Images

Acid Reflux

Chest pain can range from a serious problem to some simple acid reflux. Even though it causes lots of discomfort while you run, acid reflux is not very dangerous.

Sometimes your stomach has trouble keeping acid down and it can sneak up your esophagus. It's painful because stomach acid is very powerful. The type of pain that you feel from acid reflux is identical to the chest pain you get from a heart problem like angina. Once a doctor figures out that your problem is simply acid reflux, they can easily treat it with drugs.

Strained Chest Muscle

While working out, especially with weights, you might push a little too hard and strain a chest muscle. When you strain a muscle it will swell up and start to hurt, even when you run. The muscle will also get tighter because it's trying to heal and will start to scar.

You can still run with a strained chest muscle but you should avoid pressing movements, such as push-ups until it's healed.

Anxiety Attack

When you have anxiety it can make your heart race and head spin. Part of the sensation of anxiety can be a crushing chest pain. It should, however, go away when your anxiety does.

It can be very scary to feel chest pain during an anxiety attack and it's a good idea to stop running until you can deal with the problem. Focus on taking long, deep breaths through your nose to help with relaxation.

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