Causes of Sharp Pain in Chest

Sharp intermittent shooting pains in the chest are commonplace and can often cause you to double up in pain for seemingly no reason. They only last a couple of seconds and you’re fine before and immediately after, but in the instant they strike it’s an intense amount of pain. Most of us continue through our daily lives ignoring these which occur about once a week to once a month, as any online search will instantly alert you that you’re probably suffering a heart attack (which we know isn’t the case). So what are the causes of sharp pain in the chest?

Well you’ll be pleased to know to begin with that the causes of sharp chest pain – particularly those in the left side of the chest by the heart – are hardly ever related to problems with the heart itself. This may be surprising but the reason is that the nerves connected to the heart are situated in the centre of the chest. Additionally, heart pain creates a full squeezing sensation rather than a short and sharp burst of pain. However if the pain continues, or you notice any tingling in your arm you should still go and see a doctor to be on the safe side (I’ve pretty much got to say that…).

What are the cases of sharp pain chest-wards then? Well if it’s not the heart it must be one of the other items in this region such as the ribs or the muscles between the ribs (AKA the intercostals ) and pain here is known as intercostals myalgia… now there’s a mouthful! If this is what you’re suffering from however fear not – as it’s far more a nuisance than a serious condition.

Often the cause of intercostals myalgia is a viral infection of the muscles, other times it might be from a strain, repetitive activity, muscle spasm or even cramp – and the nature and duration of the pain should help you determine which of these is responsible. If you work out or train in athletics then chances are you’re putting stress on your intercostals and you aren’t even aware. If you ignore it however this pain will normally dissipate on its own. However, anti inflammatory medicine can help make this pain go away if it persists.

Alternatively the pain could be caused by a trapped or damaged nerve, particularly if it continues. Again the best medicine for this is rest and time, but painkillers such as paracetamol will help until it goes away. Finally it could be an inflammation of the joint between the rib and breastbone which is called ‘costo-chondritis’ and is also caused by stress and heavy loading. So those are the causes of sharp pain in the chest, and though it’s unpleasant, if it’s short and sharp and to one side of the chest you can rest assured it’s most likely not anything sinister. Mystery solved!

78 comments

  1. C Davis Reply
    April 22, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    This was really helpful but what if, like today, I had this type of thingy 6 times in under 3 minutes? Is that normal? The pain is as if someone stabbed me in the heart but a little under it and I have to gasp for air and I fall over because of the pain. I have an asthma inhaler for this but I don't think it does any good. What should I be doing?

  2. Mikel Reply
    March 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Very thankful, it's right what is happening to me while a jump rope after practise in high school.

  3. Nicole Reply
    May 22, 2010 at 12:45 am

    So relieved. Everything article I saw was talking about heart conditions which kind of scared me… But this article was very useful so thanks! Mucho gracias!

  4. Brooke Reply
    November 4, 2010 at 10:39 am

    This has relieved my mind so much I have had frequent sharp pains more towrds the center of my chest right below left breast it feels like the pains r shooting through my chest with the rythem of my heart beat Im only 22 and was hoping Im not going 2 have heart attack soon.

  5. Gymgirl Reply
    December 5, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Thats great. Thanks!

  6. Jeff Reply
    December 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

    From experience covering more than forty years I can attest to the accuracy of this article. Beginning at age 25 in 1966 I began having sharp – make that SHARP – pain right around my heart. I had many doctors look at my charts, biopsies, x-rays, and two different stays in the hospital. I even had an attack while I was undergoing an EKG – it showed NOTHING! But the pain was real, coming at no particular time – sitting, sleeping, walking or whatever.

    In 1968 my Army Reserve unit – the famous 442nd 100th Battalion located in Waikiki was called to active duty. I took my 20 pounds of charts, test results and x-rays up to Trippler Army Hospital "knowing" that I would be excused from such active duty. Well, the Army doctor asked if I was an athlete in high school – yes, swimming team. He asked if I was working long hours and also fitting in some play time – yes, yes. He said I should get more rest and if he was wrong I would be dead running over the first hill. I didn't die. I can generate the chest pains by simply not getting enough sleep. While I have gone years in between attacks, they do show up, and I do double over in pain, and make friends and family worry. I had one this morning, did some searches and read about real heart attacks and knew I hadn't had one. Then I found this nifty little article. But don't let some anonymous person like me keep you from seeing a doctor. But be careful they don't try to put you on a regime of anti-biotics like my doctors did back in the 1960's. Those will kill you over time! I was "saved" from penicillin and cortizone by a chiropractor who taught me about healthy eating and food supplements. I now rely on C, D, garlic, oregano and xylitol to combat viral infections. Now start getting more sleep!

  7. Matt Reply
    December 11, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    I'm a dummy when it comes to medical stuff, anything experienced is "life threatening" when it comes to pain. Thanks for the information, I feel much better now, especially since I've felt similar feelings randomly my whole life.

  8. sheree Reply
    February 17, 2011 at 5:56 am

    Thanks for this artical, its 11.30 at night and cant lie down because of this terribal pain which Ive been getting since I was a child.

    Ive always been told its muscular. I never heard of anyone else having it before so it really puts my mind at ease that im not the only one out there.

    Im also 34 weeks pregnant so the baby pushing up all my organs wouldn't be helping either.

    Thank You!

  9. ilvu Reply
    February 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Thanks!

  10. Ben Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Thanks a lot, put my mind at rest, I worry too much about little pains.

  11. Anonymous Reply
    June 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    That was very clear and a relief!! 🙂

  12. Anonymous Reply
    July 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I found ur artcle very enlighting. Keep it up!

  13. Lusekelo Reply
    September 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I have been havin these pains for a week now, thought it had to do with the heart. Am going to visit my doctor just to be on the safe side.

  14. DL Reply
    October 8, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    I can definitely say that this article is pretty spot on… at least for me I'm pretty sure. These sharp chest pains I would feel around my heart would "flare up" to the rhythm of my heart; maybe about 2-4 beats of my heart then be gone in an instant. It's funny because I only had these pains when I was undergoing extreme bouts of physical fitness; when I was playing football and was physically active around the years when I was 17-22 years old. Back then I would hit the gym almost every weekday to lift weights. I'm 24 and will be 25 in a couple months and I can't remember the last time I had the sharp chest pain. O and I haven't been to the gym in almost a year and a half now. Kinda ironic how the pains go away after I stop working out. Good article!

  15. Summer Reply
    November 3, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I just felt that sharp acute pain when I breathe in and when I breathe out it hurts too… So I got myself to have some water in my mouth and breathe out easily to prevent feeling that pain. I thought I have some hidden terminal illnesses or obesity before reading this article and understood now that it could be related to stress! Thanks for this insightful article.

  16. Dr. Gavisiddeshwara Reply
    December 12, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Your article is fine and educative and good informative!

  17. Lia Reply
    January 9, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Better than the hospital we had gone…….

  18. Vivian Reply
    January 13, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Great article!

    I have been experiencing some sharp pains in my chest, my Doctor said it is stress 🙁

  19. Tania Reply
    February 21, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Thank you this info was very useful. I have recently been working as a house keeping in large resorts, the work load is very full on and carrying my 5 year old to bed would also put a lot of strain on my body. Are there any exercises I can do to strengthen my body?

  20. Jacob Reply
    March 11, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Thank you so much!!! I have generalized anxiety and as you know the pain could onset a panic attack really fast. This helped me a lot. I'm assuming it's due to my stress.

  21. Miike Reply
    March 19, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Thanks so much, like others who have commented, this article relieved some major anxiety; I will still have it checked out but now I feel it is not necessary to rush to the emergency room.

  22. Kris Reply
    March 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you! I have been having these and was concerned, but what you said makes total sense… have had EKGs with nothing found and worry about those weird pangs but possibly pulled something when heavy lifting… thanks for putting sense into my thought process.

  23. Kathy Reply
    March 24, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Very helpful… much relief! Thank you!

  24. Sam Reply
    March 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I've also heard that the pain may be gas that people are mistaking for pain in the chest? Is this possible?

  25. Jess Reply
    April 5, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Feel sooo much better after reading this!! Thanks for the info!

  26. Inverse Reply
    May 1, 2012 at 2:00 am

    Thanks!

  27. Krish Reply
    June 1, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Thank you Sir/Madam for the wonderful and reassuring write-up… Helped ease my mind…

  28. Barbara Reply
    June 1, 2012 at 6:25 am

    This article was well written and described my complaint perfectly.

    Thank you!

  29. Rick Reply
    June 16, 2012 at 3:43 am

    Well, all I can say is that I'm glad to read this, I have been having sharp pains near my heart for a couple years, gone in to doctor visits, and many test, and at one time, all in a year I saw 3 different doctors, check my heart, nerve tests, chiropractic, you name it, I had it done, and they all said I was too young for a hard attack, wrote it off, as my line of work, lifting heavy items, lots of stress, not sleeping enough, was 30 around that time, now I'm 37, seems that pains are frequent when I'm stressing out, really hate the feeling, still not use to it, every time I still grab my chest when it happens, then I look around to make sure I see someone near me, in case the unexpected happens, still scares me! But feel a lot better by reading this. I guess what I get out of this, is sleep more, relax, don't stress, and live life, as if it where that easy in this tough times, take care everyone.

  30. Effie Reply
    June 17, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Thank you so much for this article! I've been suffering hugely infrequent but extremely stabbing chest pains for a while now – I couldn't pinpoint when they occur, as they are extremely rare for me, but they only last a couple of seconds. As the pain is so alarming, though, I thought I should do some research! As you said, immediately the internet yielded answers relating to everything between heart attacks and panic attacks, but no problems or infections listed matched what I have been experiencing. Until I read this article, that is! Thank you so much for putting my worries at bay – when I imagine that it is my muscles causing these pains, they make much more sense! The pain is worsened when I breathe in (and the muscles are being used), it only lasts a few seconds (implying a spasm or cramp of some sort), and the severity of the pain is very like that when I get cramp in my legs. Thank you so much for making this clear to me, I'm very grateful!

  31. Stan Reply
    June 17, 2012 at 9:16 am

    An easing read for a worried mind. 🙂 These pains/pangs hit me when I'm calm and resting, typically. And after doing push-ups in the previous days, no matter what my diet is. I've been told it's intercostal-related before, but this article spells it all out for me. I've also experienced a strange feeling in/around my heart after jumping on a trampoline for a while, where it feels like there is a pool of blood in my heart, that won't go away for several hours. 🙁 Makes me feel cautious about exercising, and I'll never touch trampolines again, lol.

  32. Dariel Reply
    July 25, 2012 at 10:04 am

    So I'm sitting at the desk at work and all of a sudden the left side of my chest began to feel like someone was stabbing it over and over. The pain was very very sharp and sudden. Though it lasted less than a minute, the pain was so bad that it felt as if it lasted forever. I thought I was having a heart attack or dying. I was panicking after it was over until I read this article.

  33. Dustin Reply
    August 3, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Thank you! Whenever I read something about things I'm worried about it always says lung cancer or heart problems. I liked yours the most because it shows simpler stuff. Mine was on my left side, so I was relieved when you said left side. My pain occurred literally seconds before I read this. Thank you!

  34. BRIAN LANSLEY Reply
    August 24, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Nice to know some problems (especially sharp pains left chest) are probably nothing to worry about.

  35. Kyle Burroughs Reply
    September 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    I'm 22 years old and I've been dealing with this pain several times a week for a better part of my life. Most doctors have told me nothing is wrong even though I still have these symptoms. The pain is not generalized to one side of my chest but rather across the entire mid section of my torso. Today this pain has come and gone about six times in the past fifteen minutes. I am not sure what is wrong and I am really hoping that it is nothing more than something simple. I have been researching this for years and I have not found a single clear answer. The first thing most people have asked is how old I am and if I am healthy. I am tall and lean and played sports in my life and now I am in the armed forces. I don't know where else to look. Some piece of mind and maybe some answers would be nice. Thank you.

  36. James Reply
    September 6, 2012 at 4:28 am

    This article perfectly describes of the pain I've been getting over the last few days and gives some very satisfactory explanations. I just wish Google gave this a higher place on its result list. There are obviously many results which will lead you into thinking you have a heart condition. From reading this post and several of the comments I see a repeating theme – lack of rest, which applies to me too.

  37. Jill Morrison Reply
    September 23, 2012 at 3:53 am

    Thank you for putting my mind at rest!! I banged my chest a few weeks ago, and badly bruised my chest, I thought it had cleared up, and got a fright when I started getting pains again, makes sense it's a damaged muscle.

  38. Matt Reply
    October 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I suffer from these attacks often, I also have been diagnosed with Anxiety/Panic disorder many years ago so I must say that I thought this was excellent to read! I have been wondering and asking my Dr's about this for about 3 years now and now I finally know! This would have helped me years ago while going through my anxiety attacks. So thanks you much I am bookmarking this page!

  39. m m deodhar Reply
    October 12, 2012 at 4:20 am

    Very informative article. I am having this type of pain for quite some time. I am also on heart medication for coronary heart condition.

  40. Gracie Reply
    October 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you SOOOO much! I have been having those for as long as I can remember and have never known the reason. I at least have an idea now! I'm only 12 and was sort of starting to freak out because I had no idea what was going on! Thanks again!

  41. Ian Reply
    November 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    This article assured me a little that these occasional sharp pains I'm having in my left side of the chest are not to do with my heart. If the pain/co-occurrence worsens over the next week or so I will book an appointment at the doctor.

    However after what I have read on the internet I am much more assured. Its the combination of the effects the cold has on my asthma and these other issues together that had me worried. The odd muscle spasm in my chest (get them on both sides of the chest though) I think its due to strain from working at a keyboard all day and being an avid PC gamer with my keyboard as weapon. I occasionally get shortness of breath and begin sweating, although I think this is due to my workplace getting a bit tot stuffy at times and I have had troubles with anxiety.

  42. Sarah Reply
    November 12, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Hi there. I suffer from panic attacks when under stress and am petrified of having a heart attack. I get these pains from time to time along with muscle aches in my arms, legs and intestines. Today on a walk with my husband and dog, I had several short pangs just left of center in my chest. They were not as bad as the ones I have had in the past but they took me by surprise! I was so scared I asked if we could turn around and head for home. I have had several visits to the doctor and several admittances to hospital, EKGs blood tests etc in the past, all showing nothing. I exercise almost every day and quite heavily too, doing a lot of CrossFit and circuit activities. Today, I was doing pushups with 10kg (22lb) weight plate on my back, so now thinking back to that, and reading this article, I have put 1 and 1 together. I just have to remember, that in my case there are a couple of factors contributing to my 'spasms'. As my husband says, I have to "relaaaaaax"! Thanks for putting my mind at some kind of ease 🙂

  43. Paul Reply
    December 9, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I'm relieved. I've been experiencing sharps pain intermittently in my chest area and was getting a bit concerned. I'll still go ahead with medical checkup, but based on your article it could be the work out I do weekly or two. Thanks.

  44. Rhonda Reply
    January 6, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Hi, not sure if anyone else has had any similar issues, about four weeks ago I woke got up from bed for a minute and when laying back down, had a really sharp pain in my upper left side of my chest. The pain increased when breathing in deep and exhaling deep, it lasted about 5 mins. Two weeks later during the day I just had a few small pains, like stitches in same area (hurts breathing in but only 30-40 sec's long).

    Last night I rolled over in bed, and the pain started again, I found it hurt more not only when breathing deep, but if I laid down or bent over, it lasted for 30 mins. I went to the Hospital they did a EKG, blood tests, and Chest X-ray, no issues they said, today the pain is still there a little. Has anyone else ever had issues like this? Or any advice?

  45. Austin Reply
    February 28, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you so much. I have been scared for the past year now about these pains. I swim a lot and this explains it in thorough. Glad I'm not dying. Great explanation!!

  46. Rohit Reply
    March 15, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Thanks a ton Buddy 🙂

    I was thinking, I will be dead in a week or so!!

  47. Lori Reply
    March 31, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    It was the best one I have read on the subject. Thank you for covering the important info without making me panic 🙂

  48. Cheryl Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Excellent thanks!!!

  49. Shannon Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Thank you! This clears up a lot of my worries!

  50. Bruce Reply
    May 12, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    This gives me a reprieve, from going to the doctors to be given statin and other "high blood pressure treatment". I prefer homeopathic and naturopathic options. We are working on these pains that have been occurring in the last couple of months. Almost 71 and probably in good health because I keep away from "doctors". Thanks.

  51. Teri Reply
    May 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Very relieved after reading this article. In March I had a heart cath to check why my EKG was weird. No blockages, but they found a slightly weak left ventricle. I'm on blood pressure meds now; exercising every single day (lots of upper body stuff) and I've had these weird pains just as this article describes. Whew! and thanks!

  52. Kaitlynn Reply
    January 16, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I've been having "heart shocks" since grade 8 now in grade 12 at 17, the doctor finally have it a name. Cardiac —– I seemed to have forgotten it. This didn't help much because I've tried to rest up and a million other things.

    Thanks though for trying.

    Kaitlynn

  53. LC Reply
    October 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Thank the Lord! I am a 42 year old AA woman and have had these pains for a while (couple of years) and my doctor sent me to be tested last summer and everything was normal but I am still having these sharp pains. They told me it wasn't my heart but didn't tell me what it is or could be. Now I feel better. Now that I'm thinking about it what if the stress of thinking I'm having a heart attack cause me to keep having the pains. 🙂

  54. Sakina Reply
    February 26, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    I have off late being getting sharp chest pains. Taking ibuprofen 400mg helps for some time but the pain returns worse than before.

  55. Kelly Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Awesome! Completely answered my question! Thanks so much!!!!

  56. Prasad Reply
    August 1, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Thanks man… I was crazy after having these small spikes in chest out of nowhere for about a week… now I know that it's because of my recent workouts… thanks…

  57. Chris Reply
    September 4, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    I worked all day lifting and went to throw the clothes in the dryer when I got home and noticed a little jab when bending and after that I burped a couple times and had the same pain, same place! Any answers?

  58. Tracy Reply
    September 28, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Great piece!

  59. Marianne Reply
    December 22, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Thank you so very much! I am alone today and I was fearing these left side sharp pains that are intermittent. I am 60 years of age, and needed to hear some comforting news as my husband is going out of town to help our married pregnant daughter (with 2 small children) who is very sick at this time. I was hoping to read that my pain is not something I need emergent care for. I am getting over bronchitis and a sinus infection at this time. Thank you for your explanation. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to whoever you are and your staff!

  60. Hen Reply
    January 14, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Very reassuring, thank you! I'm getting them more than once per week/month, currently 8-10 times per day, and they DO stop you in your tracks. Anxiety and insomnia are huge in my life, the pain is certainly not caused by over-exercising! But lifting anything will trigger it. Being investigated for shortness of breath. Consultant has told me that after 5 years of inhaler use I do NOT have asthma. I am chanting 'Breathe Easy'….

  61. Anonymous Reply
    February 2, 2015 at 6:56 am

    First article read on my google search to explain these mystery pains and it's actually informative and not filled with doomsday scenarios. What a surprise. Thank you!

  62. Jose Acosta Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Thank you so much, I've been getting this at school and home lately at my desk and when I'm about to sleep 💁

  63. Goodi Reply
    June 4, 2015 at 12:04 am

    At first I was worried, but after reading your article I feel much better. My pain is like knife stabbing in my heart and yes my left arm have pain right at the joint, but not for long and I do go to the doctor but there is always nothing wrong with me, I now read your articles and just enjoy!

    Thank You!

  64. Sarah Reply
    June 7, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Thx for the info. Although I'm sort of worried because I've had these sharp chest pains for 7 years ever since I was six… I've also had a history with heart problems such as heart murmur and I even had a heart attack before… I was told that my heart isn't exactly the strongest 😂. Annnnd I still do PE cause it's fun, but I was wondering if I should continue to? My doctor said I didn't have to though.

  65. E Reply
    September 14, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Best thing I've EVER read trying to read what's wrong with me. Short, to the point. Common language. Humorous. Calming, unlike other sites. Thank u!

  66. Anonymous Reply
    November 4, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you! Very good & helpful info!!

  67. Harry Reply
    October 12, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    A well written article, although I am still unsure as to what my problem might be. It doesn't seem to happen as a result of doing anything in particular, but on rare occasions I get a tight sharp pain in my chest, not particularly painful, but nevertheless there. Still useful advice for future use.

  68. roy Reply
    October 24, 2015 at 8:12 am

    I got all I wanted from this post. Thanks to the writer!

  69. Bushra Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Very helpful, thank you!

  70. Jess Reply
    December 8, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you so much. I've been looking for half an hour, and finally found something useful! 🙂

  71. Anonymous Reply
    January 8, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Very accurate and not in medical jargon. Thank you for giving me peace of mind.

  72. Laney Reply
    March 19, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I have had these "electrical shock" feelings in my left chest area for 3 weeks now, with this last week the worse. I have them daily around 100 times/day, worse when I'm walking. What could be the cause? I've had an ekg, chest X-ray, chest ct and labs done, all clear. Next week I'm having an echocardiogram and a stress test because they can't figure out what's causing it. It's painful and debilitating. I'm laying in bed all day to prevent movement so I don't get these shocks.. Any insight????

  73. Greg Reply
    April 1, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you for the plain direct and simple cogent explanation!

  74. Anonymous Reply
    April 27, 2016 at 5:51 am

    Very helpful. Thanks!

  75. Kerry Reply
    July 29, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Made absolute sense. Tysm

  76. Godbless Reply
    June 28, 2016 at 6:16 am

    It was helpful to know that it was not a heart attack. Thanks!

  77. Anne Reply
    August 13, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have lupus, plus Hughes syndrome autoimmune disease, along with many other serious health issues and have occasionally had these worrying pains too which have fortunately quickly subsided, so I've just put it down to indigestion. Not tonight though. The sharp stabbing pains were so bad, it felt like someone was pushing a thin rapier sword in and out of my chest, very painful and it didn't stop until 15 minutes after I'd taken some Paracetamol. I thought when the pain was going on if I'm finally dying, I wish my body would hurry up and get on with it as I can't take any more.

    Well, I'm not dead yet and will hopefully live to see another day! It's a very scary thing to happen though, so if it lasts too long or gets unbearable, a couple of painkillers (if your GP permits) should do the trick. 🙂

  78. Nick Reply
    October 17, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Great article. Have been sent to cardiologist with all good results. This pain started after a very exerting stress test of the heart. I reckon I strained the muscles. Sometimes on the left side and right side also. After quite a while and trying not to think too much about it I feel a lot better. This is the first real explanation I have had that makes sense to me. Thank you!

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