How to Differentiate Muscle Distension from Lung Pain

Table of contents:

How to Differentiate Muscle Distension from Lung Pain
How to Differentiate Muscle Distension from Lung Pain

Pain or discomfort in the chest area is always a cause for concern, as it may indicate a lung (or heart) problem. However, in many cases, upper chest pain is caused by far less serious problems such as indigestion, acid reflux, and strain on the muscles. Differentiating the pain of a lung problem from those that arise from suffering a muscle strain is quite simple, as long as you understand the most common signs and symptoms of each condition. However, when you have doubts about the causes of the pain, and especially if it is getting worse, the best option is to make an appointment with a clinician as soon as possible to be examined.


Part 1 of 2: Understanding the symptoms

Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 1

Step 1. Analyze when the discomfort arose

The onset of muscle pain is usually quite different than the onset of pulmonary pain. Moderate to severe muscle problems present immediate pain, while minor injuries may take a day or a little longer to cause discomfort. In virtually all cases, muscle pain occurs due to some type of trauma that is easily identifiable by the patient, while pulmonary pain - which arises as a result of a disease or condition - is more gradual and preceded by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, sneezing and indisposition (general tiredness). Furthermore, pulmonary pain usually cannot be identified at a certain time or event.

  • Car accidents, falls after slips, sports trauma (football, rugby, hockey) and excessive weight lifting in weight training are situations in which the onset of sudden pain can arise.
  • Lung cancer, infections and inflammation gradually worsen (within days or months) and are associated with many other symptoms.
Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 2

Step 2. Watch for the cough

Many lung problems can cause chest pain, such as lung cancer, lung infections (viral or bacterial pneumonia, bronchitis), pulmonary embolism (blood clot), pleurisy (inflammation of the lung membranes), pulmonary perforation, and pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs). Virtually all of these illnesses and conditions cause a person to cough and sneeze; on the other hand, muscle strain in the chest or chest does not cause coughing, although there may be discomfort when breathing deeply if the muscle is close to a rib.

  • Coughing blood is common in lung cancer, in advanced stages of pneumonia, and in organ perforations after trauma. Go to the emergency room immediately if you notice blood in the sputum.
  • Some of the muscles associated with the ribs are the intercostal, oblique, abdominal, and scalene muscles. These muscles move during breathing, causing strains and twists in them to cause pain when breathing deeply, but without causing coughing.
Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 3

Step 3. Try to locate the “source” of the pain

Straining a muscle in the chest or upper torso is common when playing a sport or weight training. The pain that occurs with muscle sprains is described as an increase in stiffness or “stinging”. It is often more unilateral (on one side of the body) and easily located when palpating the site around the area of ​​discomfort. So try to feel your chest and locate the area of ​​discomfort; when injured, the muscles often spasm. If it is possible to find an area of ​​discomfort, it is a sign that there is no problem with the lungs, but with the chest muscles. Most lung conditions cause the pain to be diffuse (a sharp pain) and not be localized from the outside.

  • Carefully palpate the area around the ribs, as these muscles are stretched when the person rotates the chest or leans to the side. If it is possible to detect more intense pain near the sternum, there may be a tear in the cartilage of a rib rather than a simple strain.
  • Muscle sprains only cause pain when you move your body or breathe deeply, while lung problems (infections and cancer in particular) promote intense and constant discomfort.
  • The muscles directly above the lungs are the pectorals (major and minor groups). They can be injured when performing push-ups, fixed barbells or performing the “pec deck” exercise at the gym.
Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 4

Step 4. Look at the site and check for signs of bruises

After removing the top of your clothing, look closely at your chest and chest area, looking for redness or bruises. Moderate or severe strains will break muscle fibers, which bleed into the surrounding tissue. As a result, a dark red or purple bruise will appear; over time, it will turn yellow. A little redness in the upper torso can also indicate the presence of trauma from sport or a fall. On the other hand, lung disease does not cause visible damage, unless it is a lung perforation or severe rib fractures.

  • Mild muscle strains rarely leave bruises or redness, although they cause some localized swelling.
  • In addition to bruises, injured muscles may tremble and contract for a few hours (or even days) during the healing process. Such "fasciculations" are proof that there is muscle strain, not lung disease.
Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 5

Step 5. Measure your body temperature

Many common causes of lung pain are pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) or environmental irritants (allergens, dust, asbestos). So, in addition to chest pain and coughing, there is a common rise in body temperature, fever, which accompanies most lung problems. On the other hand, muscle strains do not affect the body's temperature, unless they are severe enough to lead to hyperventilation. Measure the temperature by placing a digital thermometer under your tongue; generally, the result should be around 36.7 °C.

  • Mild fevers help as it is the body's defense against infections.
  • However, high fevers (39, 4°C or more in adults) can be dangerous and should be closely monitored.
  • Chronic lung diseases (cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) usually increase body temperature slightly.

Part 2 of 2: Getting a Medical Diagnosis

Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 6

Step 1. Make an appointment with a pulmonologist

Muscle strains heal on their own after a few days (or weeks for more severe injuries), so if chest pain persists longer or gets worse, make an appointment with a pulmonologist. He will take your history into account and perform a physical examination, listening to your lungs as you breathe; by identifying abnormal breathing noises (wheezing and congestion), it will determine if there is something blocking the airway (fluid or particles) or making it too narrow (due to swelling or inflammation).

  • In addition to coughing up blood and experiencing chest pain when breathing deeply, other signs of lung cancer are hoarseness, loss of appetite, general lethargy, and relatively rapid weight loss.
  • Your doctor may take a sample of the sputum (mucus, saliva, or blood) and analyze it in culture, which may indicate a bacterial infection (bronchitis or pneumonia).
Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 7

Step 2. Take an x-ray of the chest

Once the doctor has ruled out a muscle strain and suspects a lung infection, he or she will ask for an x-ray to be taken to detect fractured ribs, fluid accumulation in the lung (pulmonary edema), lung tumors, and organ tissue damage. due to smoking, environmental irritants, emphysema, cystic fibrosis or as a remnant of a previous episode of tuberculosis. A chest x-ray can also identify (or rule out) another significant cause of chest pain: heart disease.

  • Advanced-stage lung cancer is almost always detected by this test, but the early stages of the disease go largely unnoticed.
  • X-rays can show the effects of heart failure.
  • A chest x-ray will show no lesions or sprains in the chest. If your doctor suspects a muscle or tendon is torn, he or she may recommend a diagnostic ultrasound, an MRI, or a CT scan.
  • Computed tomography creates a cross-sectional image of the chest, helping the professional to diagnose the condition when the physical examination and x-ray are not conclusive.
Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle or Lung Pain Step 8

Step 3. Take a blood test

In addition to sputum culture, blood counts are very useful to distinguish the type of lung disease present. If the patient has an acute lung infection (bronchitis, pneumonia), the white blood cell count will skyrocket as they are used by the immune system to fight pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. The blood test can also give you an idea of ​​the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, which is an indirect measure of lung function.

  • However, blood tests cannot be used to confirm or rule out muscle strains or injuries, even the most serious.
  • The blood test does not show the oxygenation level.
  • A test called erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) can determine whether the body is under stress and is suffering from a chronic inflammatory condition.
  • Blood counts are not as helpful in diagnosing lung cancer-x-rays and tissue biopsy are more effective.


  • Most likely, the pains accompanied by coughing up blood, phlegm, or discolored mucus, in addition to congested and persistent coughs, are due to some lung condition.
  • Lung irritation can arise from inhaling irritating substances, such as smoke, or from conditions that irritate surrounding tissues, such as pleurisy.
  • Some conditions related to breathing that can cause pain are: asthma, smoking and hyperventilation.
  • Hyperventilation usually occurs due to anxiety, panic, or in response to an emergency situation.

Popular by topic