Chest pain can be very alarming in any scenario. Whenever we find ourselves with chest pain we tend to think of the worst – that it might be a heart problem – and this is particularly the case for many of us if our chest hurts specifically when we are running. However there are lots of other things that might be causing heart burn other than a dodgy ticker and many are completely harmless. Here we will look at what some of those are.
The intercostal muscles: The intercostal muscles are the small muscles between the ribs. When we run outside and it is cold/we are exerting ourselves, this can cause the intercostal muscles and the other upper body muscles to tense become tense and in some cases they can even get pulled or develop cramp as a result. This is felt as a shooting pain in the chest which is often mistaken for heart attacks but which is actually very different from the sensation of a heart attack which is rather a dull ‘squeezing’ sensation that leaves you short of breath.
Breathing: Breathing very cold air into your lungs in vast quantities while running can make your lungs very cold and this can sometimes cause them to hurt. This is exacerbated by the fact that the lungs need to work harder in the cold weather in order to extract oxygen from the air. This can be worsened if you suffer from breathing difficulties such as asthma or pulminary disease. It is possible to have these conditions and not be aware, and even to develop them. If you notice your chest ‘tightening’ then this might be a sign that you should take a break and that you might have a related condition.
A solution is to try not to over-exert yourself, particularly in the colder weather. At the same time try wrapping a towel around your mouth and nose and breathing through that which will heat up the air as it comes into your lungs. Finally make sure you are breathing correctly – find a good rhythm and trying breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Heartburn: Heartburn occurs when some of your stomach acids are regurgitated into your oesophagus where they might create burning in the upper chest that sometimes feels as though there is a ‘brick’ trapped there. At the same time this can cause acid reflux where the acid is regurgitated into your mouth. Running or any exercise makes this more likely as you will be shaking around the contents of your stomach. Ensure that you do not exert yourself too soon after eating and if the problem continues try taking indigestion medication such as Gaviscon.
Stitch: Though most people would describe stitch as being lower on the body than the chest, some might confuse this for chest pain and it can be found higher up nearer the ribs. If this is the case try pinching the area while you run and you should find the pain quickly subsides.
Breast pain: If you are female and your chest pain is caused by your breasts then this can be caused by them bouncing up and down too violently when you run. As the breasts are very tender this can be very painful and can prevent some people from enjoying running. The best solution for this is a tight fitting sports bra which can help to hold them in place and offer support. If they are particularly sensitive during set times in your menstrual cycle then try supplementing your diet with evening primrose oil capsules which many people find to be an effective relief.
A related problem is that nipples can often rub on clothing and this can be a problem for men or women. As such there is specific nipple tape that can be bought to counteract this problem. Make sure you use this rather than ‘any’ tape which can be painful to remove otherwise.
Angina: Angina is chest pain related to the heart, and while there are many other reasons you may be experiencing chest pain, it can of course also be a sign of heart problems. When we run we are using our aerobic system to pump blood and oxygen around the body and this means that our hearts are working in over time. If you have heart problems then, this might be a time that you notice them. At the same time if you have high cholesterol this might be causing problems as your heart will have to work harder in order to push your blood around your veins and arteries due to increased pressure caused by fatty deposits called arterial plaques.
If you do suffer angina during exercise then it will feel like a dull ache in the very centre of your chest which will make it difficult to breath. If you suspect this may be the cause then reduce your exercise and see a doctor – it is always advisable to seek advice from a health expert before beginning any new exercise routine.