What Chest Pain Means for Athletes

Dr. Dermot Phelan of the Cleveland Clinic reviews probable causes of chest pain in athletes and what to do when pain strikes.

Sports can cause a lot of wear and tear on the body, and sometimes you can feel it in your chest. Athletes such as boxers, football players and lacrosse players often receive hard hits to their chests, which can bruise or fracture their ribs, causing intense pain. Injury to the chest as well as constant repetitive movement with intense training can also cause costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone. It's common in rowers, competitive weightlifters, tennis players, and other athletes.

Meanwhile, any athlete can experience Tietze's syndrome, an inflammatory disorder that affects the chest wall cartilage. And we have all experienced "stitches." Most common when athletes start a training program, these are likely just muscle spasms. Precordial catch syndrome causes sharp localized pains that strike during deep breathing, most often in young adults. While the condition is benign, the cause is unclear.

Athletes are often high achievers, competitive and motivated. However, anxiety and even panic disorders and depression are not uncommon in young athletes. These conditions can result in spikes in heart rate or blood pressure as well as hyperventilation (rapid deep breathing), which can contribute to chest pains. Found in many energy drinks, stimulants like caffeine can speed up the heart, increase blood pressure and contribute to the problem.


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