Why Does My Chest Hurt When I Run in the Cold

Running can be an important and effective part of your fitness routine. And it’s perfectly normal that there are a few aches and pains associated with going out for your morning (or evening) jog. Warming up and stretching are good ways to protect your joints and muscles from injury, but what do you do when the pain is in your chest?

With winter well underway, many otherwise healthy runners are finding themselves with chest pain when running in the cold air. So what exactly is going on here?

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Air Temperature

Under normal circumstances your body warms air as you breath it in. The small blood vessels in your nose raise the temperature of the air entering your body so that it’s comfortable when the air hits your lungs.

However, when you’re running you probably have the tendency to breath more with your mouth than your nose, and to breath in short sharp breaths, rather than long slow ones. This means that your body doesn’t have the chance to warm the air up.

The pain in your chest could simply be a reaction to an intake of cold air. The pain should stop if you slow down or stop running and start breathing through your nose. If the pain stops within a couple of minutes of you stopping and breathing slowly and deeply through your nose, then it’s nothing to worry about, just a normal reaction to air temperature.

Asthma

Even if you don’t normally suffer from asthma, you may suffer from exercise-induced asthma, which becomes more prevalent in cold conditions. Asthma can be serious, and if you experience symptoms you need to stop running immediately.

Asthma is generally pretty recognisable, the pain in your chest will be accompanied by a feeling of tightness and your breathing will be wheezy, kind of like it is when you have a bad cold or bronchitis.
If you experience these symptoms you need to consult with your doctor, who will probably give you an inhaler or other medication to help ease the attacks. This doesn’t mean that you can’t exercise, but you should be more careful.

Heart or Artery Conditions

These conditions are obviously much more serious. Because your arteries and blood vessels constrict when exposed to the cold, heart and blood pressure problems can become more obvious. Problems with blocked arteries or blood pressure issues will become more apparent because as your blood vessels constrict, the blood will have even less space to flow through.

If you begin to have pain, difficulty breathing, and also loss of circulation in extremities (your fingers turn blue, for example) or nausea, and particularly if you begin to feel dizzy, there is the chance that you have circulation or blood pressure problems.

This needs an immediate check up by your doctor before you run again. Similarly with heart problems, since your heart will be working even harder to pump blood through constricted arteries, heart conditions can become more noticable when running in cold weather.

If your chest pain radiates out, your left arm begins to hurt, or you notice an irregular heart beat (such as palpitations), nausea or dizziness, you need to get to the doctor for a check up. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with heart or artery conditions you must not run again until you’ve been checked out.

It is perfectly possible that your chest pain is a normal reaction to cold air. And if it rapidly disappears when you stop running, feel free to continue. But because of the severity of medical conditions linked with chest pain, if you have any worries at all it’s best to be checked out by your doctor.

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