The pectorals of the upper body help control the movement of the arms and helps the breathing process of deep inhalation. There are major and minor pectoral muscles that help assist many daily activities. Pectoral muscles help your shoulder and shoulder blades turn in different directions to allow you to lift, carry, dress and play sports.
The major part of the pectoral is responsible for moving your arms. This is the larger of the pectoral muscles and connects your upper-arm to your collar and breast bone. The minor pectorals are found under the major and extend to the top of your shoulder blade. The minor pectoral helps stabilize the shoulder blade and allows your arm to reach forward.
At times, due to many contributing factors, there can be a tear in the pectoral. A torn pectoral limits your body from participating in sports, exercising and limits your daily movement.
Causes of a Torn Pectoral Muscle
There are many different events or actions that can cause a pectoralis major muscle tear. Some of these causes are:
- Falling or slipping
- Over-exercising the pectoral muscles
- An accident (car, bike or similar)
- Forceful pressure on the pectorals
- Heavy Lifting
Some of the symptoms that will accompany it can be as follows:
- Burning sensation
- Limited movement
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms
The common symptoms from this injury generally affect the upper chest muscle with pain from the chest muscle to the humerus bone.
Doctors will often perform a physical examination of the pectoral to check for a tear. Doctors can order an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging test to be performed to check for tears in the pectoral.
An ultrasound can be used to quickly check the affected area for any obvious tears or other issues of the surrounding area.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not use x-rays or radiation but uses magnetic and electric fields to take a more in-depth picture of the requested area, in this case, the pectorals.
Both tests can help check the location of the injury and the severity. If additional testing is needed, a computed tomography scan or CT scan can be done. When a tumor is the cause of a torn pectoral, then doctors may do a biopsy to check if it is benign or malignant. If the tumor needs to be removed, then surgery is performed. A heavy growing tumor is rarely the cause of pectoralis major tears, but it can occur in some cases.
A torn pectoral muscle can be very painful, and doctors may recommend you take pain relief medications such as Advil or Motrin. These pain medications will not make your tear disappear, but it will help reduce the swelling of the torn pectoral. Minor and moderate torn pectoral injuries should heal on their own within 2-3 weeks.
Doctors will often refer to the technique R.I.C.E for treatment, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. In more serious cases, the recovery time can extend to months. In extreme cases is surgery required to restore the torn pectoral. Surgery will be needed if there is a tear in the muscle-tendon or a rupture. During surgery, the tendon is re-attached to another section of the muscle to help regain full or partial muscle strength. Recovery time after surgery can last from 3 weeks to 6 months.
Prevention and Post-Tear therapy
Preventing a torn pectoral muscle can sometimes be out of your control. Below are some things that you can do to prevent a chest injury or pectoralis major tear such as:
- Engage in light stretching before a workout especially with heavy bench pressing
- Rest properly after exercising or playing a sport
- Avoid overexerting your body and muscles
- Always wear a seatbelt
- Use proper protection when playing sports such as hockey and football
If you have already experienced a torn pectoral muscle, then the list below is some of the things to do post-tear.
- Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities
- Go to physical therapy
- Rest after exercising
- Put ice packs on the injured area
- Refrain from participating in sports
- Ask for help when doing daily chores such as cleaning, dressing, and showering
- Take the proper medication to reduce swelling and pain
- Wear an arm sling to help reduce the urge of sudden movement
Your doctor will always be the one to assess this and make a decision on what the best course of treatment is. Sometimes, surgical treatment will be needed to repair a major tendon, particularly in the case of a complete rupture. The chest muscle is very large and a pectoralis major rupture would need to be treated by a surgeon in many cases.
Tears in the chest muscle and upper arm are painful and can take you out of commission. They’re common at the gym when doing a bench press or other major weight lifting without proper stretches beforehand or when done with bad form.