Keeping exercise safe

  • If you experience any symptoms/discomfort in the chest, back, jaw or arms, or have symptoms such heartburn, you might be wondering if your symptoms are coming from the heart or are caused from something else.
  • It can be very difficult to tell the difference between muscle-related and heart-related symptoms, however, there are a few tips to help you differentiate.
  • Call 911 if you experience any new or worsening symptoms that are not resolved quickly. Always let your doctor know of any new or worsening symptoms.

Muscle-related symptoms

  • In this section, muscle-related symptoms include symptoms coming from a muscle, joint, connective tissue or nerve.
  • Think about a previous muscle or joint injury you have had. How did that area feel? For most, muscle-related symptoms can be pinpointed, and are described as “achy”, “sore”, “burning”, “tingling”, or “sharp pain”. Symptoms generally last for hours to days, or occur for just a split second.
  • Muscle-related symptoms/discomfort often will:
    • Change when you push or rub the area: If you notice your symptoms change when you rub or massage the area, your symptoms are likely coming from a muscle/joint or nerve-related concern.
    • Change when you change your body position: If you notice the pain changes when you change your body position, such as lifting your arm, lying on your left side vs. your right side, or bending forward, your symptoms are likely coming from a muscle/joint or nerve-related concern.
  • Muscle-related symptoms can occur with an injury, or after exercise/vigorous activity. For example, you may experience some muscle soreness 24 to 48 hours after completing resistance training, especially if you have not done resistance training in some time.
  • Stress or anxiety can also cause muscle soreness, fatigue, shortness of breath or other symptoms that may feel like heart-related symptoms. If stress or anxiety is causing you any symptoms, it is important to follow up with your doctor. For more information on stress, visit our Stress & Your Health section.
  • Indigestion, or heartburn, may also feel like heart-related symptoms. If you are experiencing indigestion or heartburn, ask yourself: do you have a history of indigestion or heartburn? Did you do something to provoke the heartburn (i.e. eat spicy or greasy food). Is the heartburn relieved with your typical measures? If you do not have a history of heartburn, symptoms are not typical for you, or symptoms worsen, it is best to seek medical assistance. Lastly, some heart medications can provoke heartburn or indigestion. You can speak to your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Heart-related symptoms

  • Heart-related symptoms are known as angina.
  • Angina occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This can occur during exercise (or vigorous activities), during hot/cold temperatures, or during high-stress situations.
  • Heart-related symptoms can last for a matter of minutes. If heart-related symptoms last longer than a few minutes, or are not relieved quickly with prescribed medication, you should always seek medical assistance by calling 911. Heart-related symptoms rarely present for a split second.
  • Heart-related symptoms may:
    • Occur when the heart does not get enough oxygen-rich blood, such as during physical activity or extreme temperatures.
    • Present as pain, discomfort, squeezing, pressure, heaviness, and/or a burning feeling in the chest, jaw, arms, back, throat and/or neck.
    • Feel like indigestion, heartburn, weakness, sweating, nausea, cramping, or shortness of breath.
    • Go away when you slow down, or rest for 1-2 minutes.
    • Go away with prescribed dose of nitroglycerin.
  • Call 911 if you experience any new or worsening symptoms that are not resolved quickly. Always let your doctor know of any new or worsening symptoms.

Angina management

  • Avoid heavy meals or over-eating, especially before exercise.
  • Always warmup for a least 5 minutes at the beginning of an exercise session. View our safe warmup demonstration.
  • Always cool down for a least 5 minutes at the end of exercise.
  • If prescribed, always carry your nitroglycerin spray and use it as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you are experiencing symptoms that are not resolved quickly, always call 911.
  • Always follow up with your doctor, cardiologist and/or your Exercise Therapist if you experience new symptoms.

Want more information?

  • Speak to your Exercise Therapist.
  • Speak to your family doctor, cardiologist or pharmacist.
  • Learn more tips by viewing our Orientation Section: Exercising Safely.