As with most muscles in the body, chest muscle pain is most often caused by direct trauma or injury to the muscles. This may include muscle strains or muscle ruptures, or it may be a less severe injury such as a muscle cramp or fatigue. Chest muscle pain may also be an associative pain that results from more serious conditions such as pneumonia, constant coughing, asthma, or elevated stress levels. While most chest muscle pain is not serious and can be remedied with plenty of rest and an appropriate regular workout, chronic or severe chest pain should warrant a trip to the doctor for diagnosis.
When a muscle is stretched or twisted beyond its normal means, the tiny fibers that make up the muscle tissue can tear, resulting in a muscle strain. Chest muscle pain may result from a muscle strain, and athletes are especially susceptible to such an injury. Anyone who does heavy lifting is also likely to incur a muscle strain in the chest. This injury can usually be treated with plenty of rest and icing of the affected area to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Over the counter pain killing medications can also be taken to help relieve pain; in more severe instances, a doctor may prescribe a more powerful painkiller or anti-inflammatory medication.
If the muscle tears completely away from the tendons, or from other muscle fibers, a rupture has occurred. This is a more serious injury that may require surgery to remedy. The muscle will very often bunch up where it has ruptured, and the sufferer is likely to feel intense pain in that area. Bruising may occur as well, and swelling and tenderness are all but guaranteed. A muscle rupture will take several weeks or months to heal completely, and strength and mobility can be lost during recovery time.
Chest muscle pain may also result from fatigue. Weight lifters and athletes may feel pain or stiffness in the chest after a workout; lactic acid, which is a by-product of glycogen — the body's preferred energy source during high intensity activity — can build up in the muscles, causing stiffness, fatigue, and pain. Many athletes participate in practices designed to enhance their lactic acid thresholds, thereby preventing or delaying such fatigue from occurring during exercise.
More serious conditions that can cause chest muscle pain may not have much to do with the muscles at all. Asthma and pneumonia may cause a sensation of pain in the chest that some might mistake for chest muscle pain. Smokers are likely to feel tightness or pain in the chest as well, and people with chronic coughs will feel pain in the chest due to the strain being placed on the muscles during the coughing motion.