Why Does My Chest Feel Tight When I Run?

If you are experiencing any type of chest tightness or discomfort, especially during physical activity such as running, it should be taken seriously. In rare cases, chest tightness can be the sign of a life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical attention. It can also be a sign of an underlying problem that needs to be resolved before symptoms are brought under control. Visiting your physician and getting the go-ahead for running is recommended.

An out of breath woman leaning over. (Image: diego cervo/iStock/Getty Images)

Heart Related

When running, your cardiovascular system is working at its hardest. You are putting maximum strain on your heart muscle, and if you have any type of underlying heart disease or condition, you could experience chest tightness or discomfort. If your heart is unable to pump enough blood to the rest of your organs, heart failure or heart attack can occur. One symptom of a heart attack is chest tightness and pain. It can be subtle and lead to your neck and arms or it can be sharp — in the center, left side of your chest. The first sign of a heart attack means you need to get medical attention immediately. If you are under a physician's care post heart attack or heart-related surgery, follow his instructions and precautions precisely — especially when running to avoid complications.

Respiratory Illness

In some cases, a respiratory illness can become exasperated during a run. Bronchitis, influenza, bacterial infection, adenovirus and the common cold can cause severe chest tightness and make congestion feel worse when running. This tightness can make you feel like it’s difficult to catch your breath or take a deep breath in. When your bronchial tubes become inflamed due to infection or irritation, the added stress caused from running can make your chest feel even more tight than at rest.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain or pulling from running or from putting stress on an old injury can cause chest tightness. Chest tightness may get worse as you overexert yourself. If you have muscle strain or chest discomfort, you should treat the muscles by resting them for a few days until the pain subsides and also keep the area iced. A solution is making sure that you stretch properly before running by placing arms above and behind your head and bending back slightly to open chest muscles. Stretching helps to improve blood flow to the muscles and reduces your risk of strain and tightness.


Having an underlying pulmonary-related problem can cause chest tightness and discomfort when running. Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are examples of medical problems in which the airways in your lungs can become constricted — especially after running and exertion. These conditions can flare up after exertion and make breathing difficult. Consult with your pulmonary specialist and ask if your lungs are healthy enough for high-impact exercise and how often you should work out.

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