Why Does My Chest Hurt When Running in the Cold?

Your chest can hurt when running in the cold because of exercise-induced asthma or something more serious.
Image Credit: Katja Kircher/Maskot/GettyImages

For some people, running is one of the most enjoyable activities. The sport simultaneously invigorates and relaxes you, warming up your muscles and energizing your heart rate.

However, for some people, the sport causes aches and pains. While some people might feel the pain in their ankles or knees, others feel the pain in their chest. Chest pain after running in the cold can be the result of a variety of problems.

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Your chest can hurt when running in the cold because of exercise-induced asthma or something more serious.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

In many cases, the cause of chest pain while running is known as exercise-induced asthma. According to KidsHealth From Nemours, "The cold, dry air that's inhaled into the lungs during exercise is believed to be the main cause of exercise-induced asthma." While running, your breathing becomes quick and shallow.

As the air quickly moves through your mouth and into your lungs, it does not have enough time to warm up. For a person with exercise-induced asthma, this sudden intake of cold air irritates the lungs and constricts the airways, triggering the symptoms of asthma. Along with your chest burning after running, the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

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Read more:Is Running in Cold Weather Good or Bad?

Cold Air and Chest Pain

Rapidly breathing cold air through the mouth means your lungs can hurt, says the American Lung Association. This can cause chest pain even if you do not have exercise-induced asthma. When you breathe air in through the nose, the small blood vessels near the nasal cavity warm and moisturize the air.

As the moistened and warmed air moves down the airways and into the lungs, the body accepts it easily. However, most people breathe through the mouth while running. In this case, the air does not become warmed or moisturized. This cold, dry air irritates the airways slightly, but does not cause them to constrict.

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Read more:Lungs That Are Burning When Running

Blocked Coronary Arteries

Some people experience chest pain while running because of blocked coronary arteries. As cold wind hits the face, the heart rate slows down slightly. Although this decrease in heart rate does not cause any immediate problems, it can eventually affect the body.

As the heart rate continues to decrease, the blood flow to the heart also decreases. Since the heart receives its oxygen from the blood, a decreased heart rate results in a decreased flow of oxygen to the heart.

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The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health says that exercise is important but there are some things to consider if you have blocked coronary arteries. If running is a new exercise, you must get the go-ahead from your doctor first. She may schedule a couple of tests like an ECG before you start. The thing to remember is to stop running immediately if you feel chest pain.

Serious Heart Problems

In some cases, chest pain while running might be caused by a serious heart condition, such as an aortic tear or heart attack. The aorta sits on top of the heart and delivers blood from the heart to the lungs, brain and body. If the aorta tears even slightly, the flow of blood to the entire body becomes disrupted.

Similarly, a heart attack also immediately interrupts the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and body. Both an aortic tear and heart attack cause immediate chest pain, along with shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and radiating pain. Although running does not directly cause either condition, vigorous exercise might be the trigger. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately in either case.

How to Relieve Chest Pain

In most cases, you can relieve chest pain simply by relaxing. Once you stop running, the pain and tightness in the chest should dissipate within 10 to 15 minutes. Consider wrapping a scarf around your mouth while running, advises the Mayo Clinic. If possible, breathe through your nose.

In the case of exercise-induced asthma, certain medications can help to keep the airways dilated, allowing for easy passage of air. Medications might also be necessary for heart problems. However, in the case of blocked arteries or significant heart conditions, it may be best to avoid vigorous exercise altogether, opting for less strenuous exercises instead.

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