According to a 2014 study, running can be extremely healthy for your heart’s health. In fact, even if you run for 5 to 10 minutes every day, your cardiovascular health is greatly improved.
But despite all these benefits for your heart, a lot of people may feel sudden chest pain while running, especially if they run for a long time or sprint at maximum speed. This may drive a lot of runners to ask “why does my heart hurt when I run?”.
Chest pain while running can happen for a variety of causes, specifically due to increased lung strain and spasming for new runners. Yet, it can also be triggered by underlying health issues, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, or even mental conditions.
If you want to find out more about these conditions and how to manage chest pain while running, keep on reading this guide!
Why Does My Heart Hurt When I Run: 6 Most Common Reasons
If your heart hurts while running, it can happen due to a wide range of conditions and causes. In fact, pain in many organs around the chest can also trigger a similar form of pain, although some of them can be more serious than others.
To avoid chest pain while running, you must first figure out the causes, so let’s have a quick look at each one of them:
1. Underlying Heart Conditions
The first thing you need to rule out if you suffer from heart pain while running is underlying heart conditions. This is because they’re the most serious among all other reasons.
One of the less life-threatening causes of chest pain while running is angina, which happens when blood flow to the heart is reduced, which can happen due to weak cardiac muscle or build-up of fats in the blood vessels.
The pain of stable angina subsides quickly when you rest, unlike heart attacks, which will remain even with rest. Heart attack pain is often described as dull tightness in the chest that often spreads to the upper extremities and is often accompanied by breathlessness.
In addition to old age and weakness of heart muscles, there are some other factors that can also increase the risk of heart conditions while running, including:
- The presence of other cardiac conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Obesity and high cholesterol diet
2. Spasming of the Lung Muscles
Lung strain is one of the most common reasons for chest pain while running, and luckily, they’re the least serious of all causes.
After excessive exercise of any form, our muscles start to produce lactic acid due to anaerobic respiration on a cellular level. This acid makes our muscles sore after exercising for the first few times.
If you haven’t run in a while or you’re new to running for long distances, your lungs won’t be accustomed to breathing at such a quick rate, and the lung muscles (the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles) will become sore.
As your lungs draw in more oxygen to meet your body’s demands, things can get a little uncomfortable. This also happens when people sprint at their maximum speed for the first time.
The good news is that such pain is usually temporary and will only last for the first few running sessions as your lungs become accustomed to the practice.
Ideally, you should run at a pace that you can comfortably talk with, which is known as “conversational pace” to avoid straining your lungs while running.
Additionally, drinking enough water prior to running will help in preventing electrolyte depletion, which can cause cramping and spasming of these muscles.
3. Inflammation of the Lungs
As previously mentioned, running can also have its toll on various parts of the body, which is expected in any form of physical sports.
When it comes to chest pain due to running, it can happen due to inflammation of the lungs or the tissues surrounding it. Pneumonia, which is an infection caused by viruses or bacteria, is one of the main causes of chest pain while running.
Pneumonia also has various other symptoms that can make it easy to identify. These include shortness of breath, coughing, and fever.
In addition to the lungs themselves, some parts of the lungs may also suffer from inflammation due to running, such as the cartilage that connects the sternum (breastbone) with the rips.
This condition is called “costochondritis”, and it’s a pretty painful condition that is common among runners, rowers, and other athletes.
A similar condition, known as “Tietze’s Syndrome”, can also cause pain in the chest while running due to inflammation of the upper rips cartilages.
4. Underlying Lung Conditions
In addition to inflammatory conditions in the lungs, there are several other underlying lung conditions with symptoms that can also lead to shortness of breath and pain in the chest while running.
One of the most popular underlying lung conditions is asthma, which is a hypersensitivity condition in which the airways of the lungs become narrow upon exposure to irritants in the air.
Running with asthma can be pretty painful, but using certain prescription medications like pulmonary inhalers can reduce the pain
Another non-serious condition that causes sharp pain in the chest is the precordial catch syndrome. However, this condition can also be painful even if you’re not running, and is more common among teenagers and children than adults.
5. Gastrointestinal Problems
Surprisingly, chest pain while running is more likely to be caused by digestive problems than by your heart itself.
This is because conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn are extremely common all over the world. In fact, around 20% of all Americans will experience this condition at least once a month.
The reflux of acid in both of these conditions will cause sharp burning pain around the chest that is worsened by running. These conditions can also cause complications like stomach ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach).
When it comes to gastrointestinal problems, the pain will usually follow meals, especially heavy and spicy ones.
Alcohol and caffeine can also increase the reflux intensity. Belching and foul acid taste in the mouth are also common in severe cases.
Luckily, chest pain due to gastrointestinal problems can be reduced by using antacids or prescription medications like pantoprazole (Protonix).
6. Anxiety and Stress
Stress is rarely considered when looking for causes of chest pain while running but it can be a major factor in prone individuals.
Stress-induced chest pain while running can be also accompanied by numbness or tingling in the limbs. Anxiety can also increase your risk of angina attacks while running.
Do You Need to Stop Running If It Hurts Your Chest?
This mainly depends on the severity of the pain while running and whether it’s caused by an underlying health condition or spasms.
In most cases, the best thing to do if you feel pain in your chest is to immediately stop or even slow down, and rest for a few minutes.
If the discomfort starts to go away, you may go ahead and continue running. However, if the pain doesn’t go away, you should call 911 immediately.
Here are some additional tips to consider if you feel pain while running.
Take It Easy
If you’re suffering from a lot of stress lately, try to unwind while running and avoid overwhelming yourself with thoughts while running.
Instead, try to enjoy the time and look at the running session as part of your therapy. Also, if you’re going too fast or running for too long, you might want to ease off a little.
Rule Out Any Underlying Conditions
Since heart conditions are pretty serious and can be easily mistaken for other non-serious conditions, it’s important that you rule them out by getting yourself checked at your local hospital.
Practice Proper Breathing Techniques While Running
There are plenty of great techniques to breathe properly while running, and one of the best methods is to inhale through both the nose and the mouth at the same time. This may sound difficult in the beginning but it gets quite easy with practice and consistency.
Choose Where to Run
It goes without saying that running in heavily polluted areas and places with a lot of dust and debris can end up hurting your chest a lot more, which is why it’s recommended to run in open parks and away from motorways.
Why Does My Heart Hurt When I Run: When Should You Be Worried?
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a huge range of causes of heart or chest pain while running. And while some of these conditions are harmless and benign, some can be really serious and require immediate medical intervention.
Ideally, most non-serious conditions will improve either immediately or within a few sessions of running.
However, if you’re used to running and suddenly start feeling major discomfort in your chest, it’s probably best that you seek medical help and make sure that you don’t suffer from any serious health conditions.
Additionally, if your chest pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you must get checked:
- Severe tightness in the chest or squeezing pain with difficulty breathing
- Sudden sharp attacks with heavy pressure on the chest
- The pain spreads to your shoulders, neck, jaw, or back
- The chest pain increases in intensity or doesn’t go away after staying resting for sometime
- The pain is accompanied by confusion, loss of balance, or disorientation
Final Thoughts On Why Does My Heart Hurt When I Run
With that said, today’s guide about heart pain while running comes to an end. As you can see, there are plenty of factors that can cause your chest to feel some sort of discomfort while running.
These factors can range from expected cramps (especially if you’re new to running), all the way up to serious underlying conditions.
For that reason, if the pain is intolerable or doesn’t go away after running, you should make sure that you don’t suffer from any health conditions that you shouldn’t run with.