The Most Common Causes of Chest Pain: What You Should Know

Chest pain can be frightening and leave you worrying about heart disease, a serious medical condition, or even a broken rib. Chest pain can also be intense enough to limit your ability to take part in activities that require strenuous movement or strain on your chest muscles. In most cases, chest pain is not indicative of a life-threatening medical condition. In fact, the majority of people who experience chest pain will do so no more than once or twice over the course of their lifetime.

However, there are many different causes of chest pain that require further investigation to ensure your health remains optimal and risk factors are minimized. There are many potential causes of chest pain that have nothing to do with your heart or lungs. The majority of these conditions typically have an easy-to-identify cause once identified as the culprit for your discomfort. Here’s what you need to know about the most common causes of chest pain:


Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain in the body. In most cases, it is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints and protects the bones that meet together wears down. As osteoarthritis progresses, the bones in the joint become less smooth, which results in friction that causes pain.

While osteoarthritis most commonly affects joints in the hands and knees, it is also responsible for a large portion of chest pain. When osteoarthritis affects the joints in the chest, it can cause a dull ache that often worsens with movement and is accompanied by stiffness. These symptoms can be mistaken for heartburn and can sometimes be mistaken for a more serious condition, such as a heart attack.

Back Problems

Back pain is a common complaint among patients who visit their family doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist. According to a study published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the majority of individuals who seek treatment for low back pain experience their symptoms for less than three months.

Most often, low back pain is caused by a strain or sprain to the muscles or ligaments in the lower back region. In other cases, it is attributed to a pinched nerve in the region, which can cause pain that travels down the leg. Back pain can be mistaken for heartburn or a heart attack.

If you experience sudden chest pain that travels up your back or feel pain in your left arm, you may be alarmed. This condition can feel like heartburn or indigestion and may feel like a burning sensation in your back or left arm. If you have a history of back pain, you should visit the doctor even if your symptoms don’t fit the typical description.

Stress and Anxiety

While stress alone is not a cause for serious concern, it can lead to other problems that are often misdiagnosed as serious health issues. Stress can cause a person to experience a wide variety of symptoms that include anxiety, trouble sleeping, headaches, and even chest pain.

Chest pain is a surprisingly common symptom of stress, with a handful of studies suggesting that anywhere from 17% to 35% of the population experiences chest pain as a result of their level of stress. Many stress-induced chest pains are short-lived and do not require treatment. Other times, patients may be prescribed medication to help ease their symptoms.

Tension-Type Breathing Problems

Many people will experience an increase in their breathing rate when they experience stress or anxiety. This type of breathing is known as over breathing and can be caused by a variety of issues. If you have a high level of anxiety, you may be subconsciously trying to increase your breathing rate to help release excess carbon dioxide in your blood. In some cases, people with a high level of stress may also have trouble controlling their breathing.

Over breathing can cause a variety of symptoms, including chest pain. Over breathing tends to result in a feeling of pressure or pain in the chest. This pain may feel like a tightness that is localized in the upper half of the chest. Over breathing can be easily treated with techniques that help you control your breathing.

Exertion-Related Issues

Exertion-related pain in the chest occurs after the muscles in your chest are put under strain, for example, by an intense workout at the gym. Exertion-related chest pain is most common in individuals who participate in activities that involve heavy lifting or require lots of strenuous movement. In most cases, pain that occurs as a result of exertion is due to a strain or sprain of the muscles in the chest region.

Some individuals may also experience symptoms of blood clots, in which a blood clot has formed in one of the veins in the chest and travels to other parts of the body. Exertion-related pain is typically felt in the upper portion of the chest, near the ribs on the right and left sides. Exertion-related pain can be easily confused with a heart attack, especially if it is accompanied by additional symptoms like sweating and nausea.

Muscular Issues

Muscle strains are one of the most common causes of chest pains. This condition is characterized by a partial tear in the muscles of the chest that causes pain and inflammation. The most common causes of muscle strains in the chest are overexertion and improper lifting techniques, like lifting too heavy of a load with improper posture or lifting with one hand.

If you have a history of muscle strains in your chest muscles, you may experience swelling and pain in the region. Muscle strains in the chest can trick you into thinking that you are experiencing a heart attack because they are frequently experienced in the same region of the body. Muscle strains are diagnosed through a physical exam, laboratory tests, and imaging scans.

Digestive Issues

Digestive issues that cause pain in the chest can be related to acid reflux, stomach ulcers, or an inflamed or enlarged esophagus. Chest pain that is caused by an inflamed or enlarged esophagus is common in individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is also a common symptom of esophageal spasms. Esophageal spasms are a rare type of condition that causes the muscles of the esophagus to tighten uncontrollably, which can make it difficult to swallow and cause pain. Esophageal spasms are often the result of stress.


Chest pain can be caused by many different things, but the most important thing to remember is that it is usually not a sign of a heart attack. If you experience chest pain, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack so you can make an informed decision about what to do next. If you experience chest pain, it is important to seek medical attention. Your doctor will be able to determine the cause of your pain and provide you with the treatment you need.

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