Why Does My Chest Hurt After Cardio?

Exercise should make you feel good, both physically and mentally. If your chest hurts after doing cardio, something isn't right. Mild chest pain could be from pushing yourself too hard, cramps or heartburn.

Chest pain after cardio can be due to overexertion. (Image: puckons/iStock/GettyImages)

More severe chest pain could be the sign of a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention. Whatever the cause, it's always best to cease activity and have a conversation with your doctor.

Tip

Chest pain after exercise could be from overexertion, cramps or heartburn.

Cardio and Heavy Demands

Cardio exercise places heavy demands on the lungs and heart. Your heart needs to work harder to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body to the muscles that need it. Your lungs have to draw in enough oxygen for the blood to circulate. It's enough to make your chest hurt just thinking about it.

If you're unconditioned, you're likely to feel chest pain after running especially when you overdo it. Trying to run 3 miles when you haven't trained for it can put a lot of stress on your lungs and chest. While you're running and when you stop, you could feel sensations of pressure, burning and pain in your chest. If you reduce the intensity of your cardio workouts and build up your fitness more gradually, the pain should go away.

Chest Muscle Cramps

If you've ever gotten a leg cramp while exercising, you know how painful it can be. Your chest muscles can cramp, too. This type of pain is typically very localized — you can point to exactly where the pain is. The American Council on Exercise suggests performing chest-opening exercises to achieve balance in your chest muscles.

Muscle cramps occur for a variety of reasons, but dehydration is one of the most common. Be sure you're properly hydrated before exercising, and drink plenty of fluids when you're finished.

Heartburn and Exercise

In addition to your heart and lungs, your digestive system also reacts to physical exertion. If you already suffer from heartburn, of which chest pain is a common symptom, exercise is likely to exacerbate it.

Eating the wrong foods too close to a workout session can cause your chest to hurt after a workout. Avoid common trigger foods like fried and spicy foods and anything with caffeine. Keep track of pre-workout snacks so you can identify any foods that may be causing the trouble.

Exercise-Induced Lung Problems

A common cause of chest pain that occurs immediately after stopping exercise is called exercise-induced bronchospasm, or EIB, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. EIB is a spasm of the lungs' small airways and can cause cause sharp chest pains. It may also make breathing difficult. EIB can be detected and treated by a pulmonologist.

Doing cardio exercise in certain weather conditions can increase lung irritation. Exercising in very cold weather can cause chest pain and can increase the risk of viral and bacterial lung infections. These can cause inflammation in the lining of the lungs and accompanying sharp pains upon inhaling.

Exercise and Heart Problems

Sometimes chest pain actually is related to a heart problem, says Harvard Health Publishing. The most common cause of heart-related chest pain in people over 35 years old is angina. Angina is the result of coronary artery disease and is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.

Symptoms, which are exacerbated by exercise, include chest pain, tightness, pressure, aching or burning. Pains may also be felt in the shoulders, neck and jaw. Angina is a serious condition and you should cease exercise immediately and seek emergency treatment.

Inflammation of the heart's muscle, called myocarditis, and inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart, called pericarditis, are other possible heart-related causes of chest pain. Both are often caused by a virus and are exacerbated by exercise.

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