Chest pain is a relatively common symptom of COPD. It may happen due to bronchial spasms, digestive troubles, pulmonary embolism, coughing, and more.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that progress over time.

A 2016 study suggests that nearly 45% of people living with COPD experience some type of chest pain compared with 29% of people living without COPD. Similarly, a 2019 study found that the chest is the most commonly reported site of pain during COPD exacerbations.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between COPD and chest pain.

There are many reasons why you may experience pain in your chest when you have COPD:

Bronchial spasms

This happens when the muscles that control your airways tighten suddenly. This can make it challenging and painful to breathe, which could lead to chest tightness and pain.

Digestive trouble

Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) may be a comorbidity of COPD. People with COPD may end up with overinflated lungs. This happens when air gets trapped and can’t be exhaled properly. When lungs take up extra space, parts of the digestive system get squished. This can worsen GERD symptoms.

Scar tissue

There are two membrane layers (pleura) in and around the lungs. Normally, they slide smoothly over each other to regulate breathing. The inflammation of COPD can cause scar tissue to build up, interfering with typical function.

Overstretching of membranes

If the lungs are overinflated, the membrane also gets stretched out. When this happens, it loses elasticity and can activate pain receptors.


Episodes of coughing can cause muscle strain throughout your chest and back.

Blood clot in the lungs

This is also known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). Common symptoms of COPD exacerbations, such as shortness of breath and cough, might cause the diagnosis of acute PE to be overlooked and missed.

People with COPD are at risk of developing PE due to many reasons, such as a sedentary lifestyle, systemic inflammation, and a higher number of red blood cells due to low oxygen levels.

Other health conditions

A 2019 research review suggests that 4 out of 5 people with COPD have a comorbidity that may lead to chest pain. Some health conditions that could cause chest pain include heart diseases, such as heart failure, coronary artery diseases, and arrhythmias, among others.

Pain management will depend on the cause and severity of your COPD chest pain. Here are some tips that may help COPD chest pain:

Change your position

Adjusting your body position may help improve your breathing. For example, the tripod position is when you sit on a chair with your hands stretched out to your knees. You can also try leaning forward from your hips and resting your arms at a level height on a chair.

Improve your posture

Standing up straight or sitting upright in a chair may help better support your muscles. It’s also a more open position for your chest and airways.

Prevent acid reflux

Acid reflux may cause a burning sensation in your chest, which can be painful. If you’re prone to acid reflux, avoid triggers like spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and high fat foods.

Avoid swallowing air

Bloating happens when air gets trapped in your digestive system. Make sure to eat slowly, and avoid using straws, talking while eating, and chewing gum.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing exercises strengthen the muscles that control your breathing. This can help you bring in more oxygen and catch your breath when you feel breathless. Breathe in slowly through your nose and even more slowly out through pursed lips.

Use ice

Icing your chest muscles may help relieve inflammation. You can use a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a towel to ice the affected areas.

Apply heat

A heating pad may help relieve muscle and joint stiffness. Heat can help relax your muscles, reducing tension and pain. There are reusable heating pads available in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Try massage

Massage has been shown to help decrease pain in COPD. It can also play a role in muscle relaxation and stress reduction.

Do an activity

Being active with cardio, stretching, and strengthening activities can improve your breathing and help to build and maintain muscle. It may be helpful to work with a physical therapist to get you started.

Consider acupuncture

A 2016 study found that acupuncture improved shortness of breath in people with COPD. Acupuncture is also used as a treatment for chronic pain.

Take your COPD medications

Medications for COPD may help reduce symptoms that could cause chest pain, such as coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. If your COPD chest pain persists, speak with a doctor about pain medications.

There are several treatment options for COPD. A healthcare professional will help you develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Here are some ways that COPD is treated:

  • Inhalers: There are a variety of medications given in inhaler form. They help open up the airways, making it easier to breathe. They can provide quick relief or prevent breathlessness and can be short or long-acting.
  • Nebulizers: Some people aren’t able to use an inhaler. A nebulizer turns the medication into a fine mist, which is breathed in using a mask or mouthpiece.
  • Corticosteroids: These are often delivered by inhaler but may also be given as oral medications. Typically, oral steroids would only be used for a short time to help manage a flare of COPD.
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors: These are oral medications that help to reduce lung inflammation. They can reduce the number of COPD flare-ups.
  • Mucolytics: Excess mucus is produced in the lungs due to the inflammation of COPD. Mucolytics are medications that help to thin and reduce the amount of phlegm.
  • Supplemental oxygen: If your lungs are having trouble bringing in enough air, you won’t be able to get enough oxygen in your body. Using supplemental oxygen increases the amount of oxygen available to you.
  • Lifestyle changes: It’s important to stop smoking if you smoke. This may help prevent further lung damage and is considered one of the most effective treatment options.

What does COPD chest pain feel like?

COPD chest pain depends on its underlying cause. For example, bronchial spasms may cause chest tightness, while GERD and acid reflux may cause a burning sensation.

When should you go to the hospital with COPD?

Get immediate medical attention if you experience sudden shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or you’re coughing up blood. This may be a sign of pulmonary embolism.

Chest pain is relatively common in people living with COPD. Changes in lung structure and function can contribute to pain. Muscles in the chest can also be strained and cause pain.

There are many strategies to help you better manage your pain. Medications to treat COPD are an important part of preventing and managing pain.