How Does Exercising Cause Chest Pain In Teen Athletes?

Chest pain could be caused by different reasons in athletes

Chest pain isn’t something that only affects older people with heart disease. Other conditions and exercises can spark pain in people of all ages – including teen athletes. Also known as angina, chest pain is scary. It feels like a hand squeezing the chest. Sometimes, the pain can spread to the shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back.

Chest pain during exercise is never a good sign. Sure, it’s normal to be out of breath, but it shouldn’t hurt. It’s easy to assume that it’s a heart attack. After all, heart disease is the number one fatal disease in American men and women, and chest pain is a major sign.1 Most sudden deaths in younger athletes are related to inherited heart problems. Older athletes, around ages 30 to 35, can blame atherosclerosis for a majority of sudden deaths.2 But, there are countless other causes of chest pain. Stay safe by knowing and understand the possible reasons for chest pain.


Reasons For Chest Pain In Teen Athletes

Chest wall pain and asthma could be causing it in athletes

1. Chest Wall Pain Is Common In Teen Athletes

Costochondritis, or chest wall pain, is common in children and teens. It’s a musculoskeletal problem caused by an inflamed cartilage. This connects most of the ribs together,3 so pain may hover around the ribs, sternum, or spine.


For teen athletes, a major cause is a trauma or new physical activity. The pain is often sharp and gets worse with deep breathing or changing position. Heat and rest will ease the pain.4

2. Asthma Can Be Triggered By Exercise

Asthma affects 1 in 11 American children.5 Younger people have smaller airways, making asthma harder to deal with. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, breathing trouble, and chest pain.


Exercise is a major trigger of chest pain. To play sports safely, regularly check with your doctor. Any medication and instructions should be followed closely.6

3. Respiratory Infections Are Common In Athletes

In a school setting, respiratory infections are common. Bronchitis and pneumonia are two such infections that cause chest pain. Additional symptoms include fever, cough, and phlegm. With pneumonia, headache and stomach pain may also be present.7 A teen athlete with these symptoms should visit the doctor immediately. Depending on the type of infection, antibiotics or antiviral medicine will be needed.


Reasons For Chest Pain During Exercise

Muscle strain and GERD could be causing chest pain

1. Muscle Strain Can Be Due To Heavy Lifting

Straining a muscle or tendon in between the ribs can cause chest pain.8 This means it’s been stretched or torn after pulling, twisting, or lifting a heavy object. Predictably, this is possible if you lift weights. Aside from chest pain, strains cause spasms, cramping, and swelling. Treatment calls for a prolonged rest period, icing, and pain medicine. If you have a really bad strain, see your doctor as soon as possible.9


2. Chest Wall Pain Can Be Related To Arthritis

Aside from trauma, strenuous exercise and heavy weights can lead to chest pain. Again, this happens when the cartilage flares up. In adults, arthritis may play a role. While chest wall pain usually disappears on its own, hot or cold compresses help as well as rest and pain medicines.10

3. Asthma Can Result In Chest Pain

Asthma often starts in childhood, but it affects people of all ages. Over 25 million Americans live with this condition. Exercise-induced asthma can induce pain in the form of tightness or a squeezing sensation.11 Don’t let this deter you from working out, though. Physical activity will actually help you in the long run. To learn how to exercise safely, talk to your doctor.12


4. GERD Can Flare Up Due To Exercise

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), be mindful of when you eat. Exercising too soon may flare it up. The stomach contents will come back up to the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. The heartburn might be so bad that it causes pain. To stay fit with GERD, follow your doctor’s orders and take medicine as directed. Avoid foods that make GERD worse, quit smoking, and limit alcohol.13

Before starting an intense exercise program, visit the doctor. Both teens and adults can benefit from heart screenings and tests. This way, any abnormalities can be caught beforehand.