February is American Heart Month and heart health can be a big motivator when it comes to exercise. However, sometimes we fear we’ve done too much. It can be scary finishing up a workout and feeling a sudden pain in your chest. You may start jumping to conclusions, thinking that you’re having heart issues or your lungs are failing. But in reality, post-workout chest pain can usually be attributed to a number of things that aren’t always severe.
It never hurts to be too careful though, so if you’re experiencing persistent or recurring chest pain, visit your doctor immediately. In the meantime, read about five potential causes of post-workout chest pain.
The term “gastrointestinal” refers to the system of the body that takes in food, digests it, and distributes it as nutrients. Many people suffer from a specific gastrointestinal issue called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or more commonly known as ‘heartburn’). GERD is a chronic condition that results when stomach acid moves into the food pipe causing irritation.
GERD is mostly a harmless disease but it can still cause a lot of pain and anxiety if it isn’t dealt with. To combat the symptoms of GERD, your doctor will likely put you on a strict diet that cuts out heartburn triggers such as fatty foods, alcohol, citrus, and more. There are also several medications for GERD like proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) which reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.
Trauma or Inflammation
No matter whether you’re an athlete or you just enjoy exercising, chest trauma and inflammation are always a possibility. If you took a hit to the chest or you work your chest muscles frequently, you may experience something called costochondritis. This term refers to inflammation of the cartilage where the rib attaches to the chest bone. Chest pain can also be caused by bruising on the chest or broken ribs.
Many people think of fitness as a stress reliever, and in most cases, it certainly is. However, in people with panic disorders or other related conditions, exercise can actually trigger anxiety. If you’re getting ready for a sporting match or a competition of some sort, you may feel stressed out or anxious beforehand. As your body begins to tense up, you may start to feel pain in your chest and stomach. Anxiety treatment includes psychological counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
One of the most common causes of lung problems while exercising is called exercise-induced bronchospasm, also known as exercise-induced asthma. This is a condition that causes your airways to constrict and become inflamed making it difficult to breathe and often leading to chest tightness, chest pain, and wheezing. Contrary to popular belief, asthma symptoms can develop at any age; they are not solely hereditary.
Another potential cause of post-workout chest pain is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is one of the most common lung diseases in the world and is usually caused by years of cigarette smoking. COPD is divided into two main categories: chronic bronchitis which affects the bronchial tubes and emphysema which affects the alveoli, tiny air sacs within the lungs. Quit smoking immediately and consult a doctor for COPD treatment.
Lastly, heart problems can be the cause of post-workout chest pain. In older adults, angina is a common cause of heart problems. Angina results when there is a lack of blood flow to the heart, usually due to coronary artery disease. Angina is a critical medical condition meaning you should seek professional care immediately. Your doctor will help you set up a diet, exercise plan, and may provide you with medication to help prevent angina.
In younger adults, congenital heart defects are a more common culprit of post-workout chest pain. These are conditions that were present at birth such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an excessive thickening of the heart muscle, and ventricular septal defect. Myocarditis is another potential cause of chest pain which involves inflammation in the heart muscle. Myocarditis is a condition that typically does not exist at birth.
While there are many problems that could be causing post-workout chest pain, these are some of the most common. Typically, chest pain is not a serious issue, but if it persists for more than an hour or so after exercise or you experience it every day, speak with your doctor right away. The sooner you’re diagnosed, the easier it will be to recover.