Most sore throats are caused by a viral infection. Strep throat is an exception, caused by an infection with bacteria called group A Streptococcus. The infection, which occurs most often in school-aged children, can cause a very sore throat. Exercise typically will not make the infection itself worse. However, moderate to vigorous exercise might temporarily aggravate some symptoms of strep throat. As a rule of thumb, it's best to listen to your body and give yourself permission to take a short break if you don't feel like exercising when recovering from strep throat.
Throat pain is typically the most prominent symptom with strep throat. This symptom usually comes on quickly and can be severe. Moderate to intense exercise that causes you to breathe heavily through your mouth might increase your throat discomfort temporarily. This is particularly likely if you're breathing cold or dry air. Less vigorous exercise wherein you can comfortably breathe through your nose can help you avoid aggravating your sore throat.
Strep throat often causes a fever. If you're running a fever, exercise might further increase your body temperature because using your muscles generates heat. A bump in your fever is most likely if you're exercising in hot, humid conditions, which limit the effectiveness of your body's ability to cool itself. Staying well hydrated helps stave off increased body temperature in response to exercise. But with strep throat, you might find swallowing painful. This could make it challenging to stay hydrated while exercising.
Fatigue and Muscle Aches
Many people with strep throat experience fatigue or lack of energy. Not surprisingly, this could diminish your motivation to exercise. But if you decide to give it a go, you might find your usual exercise regimen leaves you even more fatigued. Additionally, some people with strep throat experience achy muscles. Moderate to intense exercise might make this symptom worse in the short term.
Warnings and Precautions
If you have symptoms that might signal strep throat, see your doctor. The diagnosis can be confirmed or ruled out with a simple test. No treatment is generally needed with a viral sore throat, but strep throat requires antibiotics to clear the infection and prevent possible complications.
Should you decide to exercise with strep throat, it's generally best to stick to with activities that aren't too strenuous, such as a brisk walk or an easy bike ride. Keep your distance from others if you're exercising outside the home, as strep throat is contagious until you've been on antibiotics for a full 24 hours. Don't share water bottles or drinking glasses.
Although rare, strep throat can sometimes lead to complications. Seek immediate medical care if you experience:
-- difficulty breathing
-- extreme sleepiness
-- confusion or mental slowness
-- dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.