Pulled Chest Muscle or Heart Attack: Causes, Symptoms, Precautions

June 3, 2020,by techsedo


It is nerve-wracking when you are left with a rib muscle pain every time you take a breath. Was it due to a little enthusiastic stretch or you could be having an intercostal muscle strain also known as a pulled muscle? Moreover, there is nothing to worry now as you get to have an insight about the chest pain, its causes, its symptoms and precautions to alleviate the pain. Additionally, strain in chest muscle generally occurs due to minor injury and heals itself in a matter of days or weeks. Before going deeper let us understand the intercostal muscle and its functions.  So stick with us as we clarify what happens when there is a pulled muscle in your chest.


Intercostal Muscle

The intercostal muscles are located between the ribs. This group can be further divided into three layers, the external, the internal and the innermost intercostal muscles. The function of these muscles is to allow expansion and contraction so that you can breathe. However, the excessive stretch may cause strain to the intercostal muscle thereby causing pulled chest muscle. Meanwhile, certain causes may create pulled chest muscle more stringent, these are

  • Twisting muscles beyond the normal range
  • Chest injuries due to fall or hit
  • Coughing
  • Excessive exercise or sports that include twisting, lifting or stretching
  • Poor flexibility
  • Poor posture
  • Reaching overhead for extended periods

Patients suffering from such pain finds difficulty and pain when breathing. However, doctors even claim that painful breathing can also be a sign of pneumonia or blood clot in the lungs. So, can it be pneumonia too? Let us see further! The risk factor is high for older people and those who live with a sedentary lifestyle. Children are the lowest amongst the risk groups.


Common Symptoms for Pulled Muscle

The signs and symptoms are slightly different from the normal chest pain. However, here, we enlist a few of the most common types of symptoms

  • Spasm of the intercostal muscles
  • Heavy pain when breathing deeply, coughing or sneezing
  • Sharp pain in the upper back
  • Rib pain
  • Sudden pain when caused a blow to the back or chest
  • Stiffness in muscles leading to back pain
  • Gradual pain on repetitive movement during sports and other physical activities
  • Twisting or stretching of the body leads to muscle rigidity


Difference Between Intercostal Muscle Strain and Other Upper Body Pains


There is a very low chance of upper back injury unless it is an accident. As the upper body stays immobile, still if you figure out pain in the area, it is often due to poor posture. Moreover, the sturdiness of the spine is generally weakened in accidents. Pain in the upper back starts like a hard tinge eventually ending up a sharp and burning pain in the spot. Most of the cases have shown fluctuating pain in the concerned area.

Generally, Intercostal muscle strain is felt due to a certain event, such as injury or even overexcretion. On the other side, Pain for pneumonia or other lung disorder is difficult to point out. Pain in the lungs is sharp and further stretched outward. When a rib gets fractured, it becomes much more severe than the pulled chest muscle.  A fractured rib needs immediate attention.

  • Rib Fracture Symptoms
  • Sharp stabbing sensation in the rib cage
  • Surrounding areas of rib feel tender
  • Excessive breathlessness


Difference Between Intercostal Muscle Strain and PneumoniaTypes of Pneumonia

As both pneumonia and intercostal muscle stain causes chest pain sometimes, even doctors find it hard to differ. However, you should know that pulled chest muscle is more painful as you touch the area. Moreover, pain may occur when you twist or bend. We urge you to not go for any kind of self-diagnosis. It can be just a mild pain or rib fracture or even cancer.

Other Causes of Pain

A pulled muscle in the chest can be very painful so there are certainly other factors too. Here, we enlist a few of the common causes of chest pain.


Angina Pectoris

It is known as stable angina is a form of chest pain due to coronary heart disease. It arises when less blood flows to the heart due to narrowing or blockage of arteries. The symptoms are as similar to heart attack however it is much shorter and disappears within five minutes. Physical exertion brings the symptom and proper resting or medication may stop.


Pulled Chest Muscle or Heart Attack

Heart attack

Heart attack causes an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest further causing pain. Generally, the pain starts from the centre of the chest and moves outward towards the back, neck, jaw arms or stomach. Pain lasts for several minutes and further disappear, however, it may still arise in some cases. Some of the common symptoms include

  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweat



Pleuritis is also known as pleurisy is due to the inflammation of the lining of the lungs most commonly due to bacterial or viral infection. This is also a common form of the pulled chest muscle. Generally, the pain increases when taking a breath with a sharp and sudden increase. Patients may find additional symptoms like fever or muscle aches. However, one should immediately visit a doctor under such circumstance.


Pulmonary Embolism

In pulmonary embolism (PE), the blood vessels are blocked within the lungs further causing a blood clot. To be more precise, PE is a severe medical emergency which stops the blood from getting into the lungs. The most common types of symptoms are

  • Shortness in breath
  • Blood when coughing
  • A sense of faint, dizzy or lightheaded
  • Rapid heart rate


Visiting a doctor

If you start feeling constant pain, it is always recommended to visit a doctor. Moreover, if the pain lasts for several days, or it interferes your sleep or daily activities. You should immediately visit a doctor. If you had a traumatic injury like an automobile accident or face breathing difficulty this might be one of the causes.



If the chest pain is affecting your day to day lifestyle and you are unsure whether it’s a pulled muscle in the chest, on visiting your doctor, he will ask for symptoms, health history and other activities that may have caused the pain. Here, we categorize muscle pain as either acute or chronic


Acute strains

This is caused due to sustained injures immediately after direct trauma such as fall or accident.


Chronic strains

This type of strain happens when doing longer-term activities such as repetitive motions like sports.

However, doctors generally ask for going a few tests to figure out whether it’s a bone fracture, heart attack or any other issue. Patients are asked for a few tests such as

  • X-ray
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Still, if it is a muscle strain, a doctor may further categorize the injury into three grades


Grade 1 (Mild damage):

Damage occurs in less than 5% of individual muscle fibre. It almost takes 2 to 3 weeks for total recovery.

Grade 2 (more extensive damage):

The affected areas include muscle fibres, however, the muscles are not completely ruptured. The flexibility of a muscle is severely hampered. It takes 2 to 3 months for healing.

Grade 3 (complete rupture of muscle):

A clear physical examination will show muscle defect. Some severe cases need surgery to reattach the damaged muscle.


Home treatment is one of the best measures when going for mild intercostal muscle strain. This includes,

  • Total rest along with limited physical activity
  • Consuming medication. Some of the most common medication that can be purchased online includes acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Applying an ice pack. Heat therapy is also a good option which includes a warm bath, heating pads or even adhesive heat. You can also go for cold packs or heating pads.

If facing difficulty in breathing, splinting the area by holding a pillow against the injured muscle can help you.

Additionally, your doctor may order following

  • Physical Therapy
  • Muscle relaxation for severe pains
  • Injecting with lidocaine and corticosteroids for reducing pain or swelling



PT is the best therapy when it comes to stretching muscles. If a patient finds difficulty or pain when breathing, it is always recommended to go for deep breathing exercises. Meanwhile, long term shallow breathing complicates your health.

However, it is always recommended to go for stretching exercise under the guidance of an expert or a healthcare supervisor. If any pain arises, stretching should be immediately stopped.

Yoga is one of the best exercises to prevent further pulled chest muscle. Besides, yoga includes deep breaths which open the pores of lungs. This has equal significance in maintaining muscle stretchability.


Outlook and Recovery

Mildly pulled chest muscle heals within a few days. Likewise, most of the muscle strain heal within 6 weeks of time frame. Prevention of future muscle strain can be done through various forms of exercise. Moreover, it is important not to understand that any overdo of workout or sports hampers the body. Therefore, it should be your utmost priority to keep muscles as strong as possible.