Any type of pain developed in the chest should not be ignored. Most chest pain will be short lived and will not have a serious reason for being there.
The chest is where important organs such as the heart and lungs live – so this can be of concern when you develop a pain in the chest. Even if you do not believe the cause of the chest pain to be cardiac related, we would strongly recommend you to contact a doctor immediately, just in case or dial 911 or 999 if you are in discomfort.
Whether you are active or inactive – knowing different causes of chest pain is beneficial for everyone.
This article will take an in depth look at the anatomy of the chest so you can develop an understanding of the body and what components your chest is made of.
We will also take a look at causes, symptoms, treatments and rehab for any type of chest pain.
Let’s gain an understanding of how the chest anatomy is made up and the structures involved.
The structure of the chest is mainly made up of these bones:
This bone is also known as the collar bone. It also forms part of the shoulder but it runs from the shoulder and in to the centre of the chest to form the top outline of the chest. It is typically around 6 inches long and serves as a support from the shoulder to the centre of the chest at the sternum.
This bone is the central chest bone or chest plate and connects in to all of the ribs via cartilage and gives protection to the heart and lungs due to its robust nature. The sternum has 3 different parts starting at the top with the manubrium which is like a tie knot. The main body of the sternum which forms most of the rest of the sternum and extending to a small point like structure at the bottom known as the xyphoid process.
To form the rest of the chest we have the ribs, which are the long thin bones that extend from the centre of the chest and wrap around our sides. This forms our rib cage and provides the round cavity for our organs to sit inside. The ribs form protection for our vital organs and are strengthened by the connection to the sternum.
The chest only has 2 muscles and they are the pectoral muscles. Out of the 2 chest muscles, the pectoralis major (the pec major) is the largest and produces the most power and function. You have one of these large, plate shaped muscles on either side of your chest.
Each one takes up half of the upper chest, and attaches to points on the sternum, ribs, clavicle and your upper arm. The pec major has two heads, which both attach to your upper arm. Both of the heads perform similar actions, but also unique functions depending on the angle of upper arm movement.
Starting at the sternum, the sternal head is responsible for 80 % of the pec major’s size. Because of this it powers the bulk of the muscle’s actions: bringing your arms in toward your body’s midline – this is known as adduction and rotating your humerus (upper arm) internally.
The upper portion of the pec major originates at the clavicle, and helps with the above actions that the sternocostal head performs, but also works to flex the humerus which is raising your arm above your head.
The pec minor is a small, triangular muscle that lies beneath the pec major and has attachment on to your ribs. The pec minor has a large influence on your scapula despite sitting on the front of the body. In addition to its attachment to the ribs, the pec minor affixes at the coracoid process, which is a small, hook-shaped attachment point near the top the shoulder blade which sits near the head of the humerus and end of clavicle. Pec minor is an important muscle in regard to shoulder pain and mobility for this reason.
The pec minor helps depress/pull down and move the shoulder blades apart, and secondary function of assisting with breathing.
Symptoms of Chest Pain
Symptoms of chest pain can vary from person to person and from what causes it.
Muscular chest pain can be tender to touch and will in some cases cause dysfunction to everyday tasks. Especially if there has been a tendon injury. The pain will usually be sharp in the early stages of the injury and worse with movement or lifting of weight.
Chest pain – no matter what the cause will most of the time be affected by your breathing. This is simply because as your chest expands, whatever is causing the irritation of problem is being moved against the force of your breathing.
Non musculoskeletal causes of chest pain such as infections and inflammation of lungs can cause breathing difficulty, excessive coughing and a variety of different symptoms such as sharp, dull and aching symptoms.
Collapsed or punctured lungs will give symptoms of heaviness, loss of breathing pressure and difficulty with breathing – this is a very unique feeling and again is something which requires urgent medical attention.
Treatment of chest problems depends again on the cause.
Medication may be required for lung problems and exercise may be the best option for most musculoskeletal issues.
Causes of Chest Pain
Here are some associated conditions which can cause chest pain. As a safety note – if you have intense which you are concerned about and is of sudden onset, please contact a doctor.
Cardiac problems such as heart attacks and angina can obviously give intense chest pain. They will often be sudden in onset and the pain can be quite intense. Cardiac chest pain will sometimes be accompanied by left sided arm pain and the chest pain itself will be left of centre. This is something that should be acted on swiftly and medical help sought. Punctured and collapsed lungs can be caused with excessive exercise or trauma to the ribs. This will often leave a person short of breath and a heavy feeling within the chest.
Injury to the pectoral muscles can make you develop pain emanating from the shoulder where the pec attaches and all the way ion to the centre of the chest. Pec injury can occur with upper limb movements and especially when pushing weight out in front of you or squeezing arms in to a central position. Injury to the pec tendon can cause a deformation of the muscle and can be accompanied by a ripping sound.
This is an inflammation of the rib cartilage that sits between the ribs. It can be caused by infection or irritation of the ribs from excessive exercise. Males under 30 are the most typical age range to suffer this. Pain can be quite sharp and intensify more and more as exercise continues. Rest helps to alleviate the symptoms.
This is one of the more obvious injuries to the chest and for the most part there isn’t anything you can do about it. Breathing and lying down will both hurt the ribs.
Falls on to the shoulder can cause clavicle fractures and this can cause pain to occur in the chest.
Shoulder injuries can affect the function of the chest due to the pec minor muscle controlling part of the shoulder. If this muscle is affected then pain will follow in to the chest.
Infection of the lungs causes pain in the chest when breathing and can often result in excessive coughing which again causes the chest to be sore.
Prevention & Strengthening Exercises for Chest Pain
Below we have outlined some of the best exercises for keeping chest pain at bay or even rehabbing from it.
Best Chest Exercises
Preventing chest pain can be helped by keeping your chest strong and mobile. Here are some of the best exercises to help prevent injury and enhance your chests function.
The king of all chest exercises. This doesn’t have to be done in a gym. The movement is simply lying flat on your back and pressing weight above your chest with your arms.
The tempo of this exercise should always be controlled, being swift on the way up and slow on the way down. Using a barbell is an effective way of doing this but you can also use dumbbells and kettlebells.
Aim for 3-4 sets of as many reps as possible.
The Press Up
This is another classic exercise which helps to strengthen the chest but also a whole host of other muscles.
The press up is essentially similar to the bench press but instead of pushing an object away from you, you push the floor away from you.
Lie flat on your front, push through your hands and extend your arms and repeat until tired. Aim for 3-4 sets of as many reps as possible.
- Dips – these are a great exercise to condition the triceps but also targets the bottom of the chest due to the angle they are performed at.
Dips are performed on a dip station or anywhere that you can hold your bodyweight up and allow your body to lower down and then extend back up.
If you haven’t got access to a gym or equipment, this can be done on your kitchen bench if it has a corner. Perform this with a slow tempo. You can also perform dips with your arms behind you on the stairs and dip your body weight down off a raised step and push back through the arms.
Again – aim for 3-4 sets and as many as possible.
- Flys – this exercise can be performed with weights or cable pulleys.
You can also perform this exercise in a seated position on a flat or incline bench and even in a standing position. The term fly means the movement of your arms from a wide position to a central position.
This will typically be done with lighter weights than you can press and will be slightly more difficult. Aim for the usual 3-4 sets and as many reps as possible.
- Pec Stretching – this is a mobility exercises if you feel you have rounded shoulders or tightness developed in the chest.
There are 2 ways in which you can stretch your pec muscles.
The pec major can be stretched by simply holding your arm in an outstretched position and turning your shoulder inwards to stretch the pec major. Hold this position for minimum of 20 seconds and repeat 3 times.
The pec minor has a slightly different way of being stretched. It is known as the butterfly stretch and this is done by holding your hands behind your head and moving your elbows backwards – like a butterfly flapping. This helps to stretch the attachment point of the pec minor at the shoulder and increase mobility. This can be done especially for shoulder pain and tightness.
Use a mobility technique of a flapping/moving motion to stretch this particular area.
That concludes our guide to chest pain – if this has helped you and you think it could help someone else then please share this blog with them, thanks for reading.