Chest pain in the athlete can be anything from indigestion to a heart attack. So if you are at all unsure about the cause of your chest or abdominal pain, seek professional medical advice. Moderate to severe chest injuries should always be assessed by a doctor to ensure the ribs, lungs, and other internal organs, including the heart, have not been affected or damaged.
On this page:
- Cardiac chest pain
- Chest pain in sport
- Abdominal pain
- Respiratory conditions
Cardiac chest pain
Chest pain in athletes can be from a number of causes, although cardiac or heart problems should always be considered. Chest pain could originate from muscles & tendons, and pain referred from the thoracic spine, but it could also signify a more serious cardiac problem, even in young athletes. Possible causes of chest pain in young athletes include Coronary heart disease, Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Aortic stenosis, Acute pericarditis, and Pulmonary embolism.
Sudden cardiac death syndrome (also known as sudden arrhythmic death syndrome - SADS) is thankfully rare, especially in athletes or those that exercise regularly. In younger athletes (under 35), the most common cause of sudden cardiac death is Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or other congenital (inherited from parents) conditions. Marfan syndrome is another cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes, although this will usually be diagnosed at a young age and should avoid high-intensity exercise.
Read more on cardiac chest pain in athletes.
Chest injuries in sport
Causes of chest pain and chest injuries in sports other than cardiac chest pain include rib injuries (fractures, contusions, and stress fractures), and referred chest pain. Rib fractures and contusions are common in contact sports and occur from a hard impact or blow to the chest area. Symptoms of a rib fracture are similar to a simple contusion, but will often last much longer. Breathing will often be painful and there will normally be a particular point on the ribs which is especially tender. More serious rib fractures may cause internal damage, so seeking medical advice is recommended, especially if the pain is severe.
Referred pain in the chest can often result from problems in the upper back (thoracic spine). The upper back may feel stiff, but chest pain when taking a deep breath can also be a symptom of a back/spinal problem.
A side stitch is common, especially in athletes who are unfit, or who might have eaten too much before exercise. Other causes of chest pain in athletes include a side strain, Costochondritis, sternum fractures and collapsed lung (pneumothorax).
Read more on chest injuries.
Abdominal pain can result from direct impact or trauma to the stomach. Or it could be gastrointestinal related with abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Acute abdominal pain is a sudden onset, often sharp pain. Being winded refers to what happens when you are subjected to a sudden forceful impact to the abdomen, and is very common in contact sports. Breathing difficulties and other symptoms usually pass in 10-15 minutes as the diaphragm relaxes and recovers from the blow. Other acute abdominal injuries include abdominal muscle strains, contusions, and bruising to internal organs such as kidneys, liver, bladder, and spleen.
Kidney stones are small hard lumps which develop within the kidneys. They develop from waste products which are filtered through the kidneys forming crystallized masses.
Read more on abdominal pain.
Chronic chest pain comes on gradually over time and includes conditions such as asthma. Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways, which causes shortness of breath and 'wheezing'. Its severity can range from mild, with only occasional symptoms, to a severe and life-threatening condition.
The most common symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest and coughing. An asthma attack is usually started by a 'trigger', which may be different for each individual. There is no cure for asthma, but it can usually be controlled quite effectively with medication. The majority of asthma sufferers will use one or two inhalers on a daily basis.
Read more on respiratory conditions in athletes.