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A torn or ruptured pectoralis muscle can limit your ability to engage in casual work and recreational activities. It can limit arm use, and may cause some severe pain. If you have ruptured or torn your pectoralis major muscle in your chest, you may benefit from physical therapy to aid in your recovery.

Furthermore, you may experience pain, limited shoulder motion, and a hard time using your arm in a normal way. Your physical therapist can assess your condition and offer the correct strategies and treatments to assist you in fully recovering.

Anatomy of the Pectoralis Major

Your pectoralis major is the big muscle in the front of your chest. It courses from your sternum (breastbone) and your collar bone to attach at the front of your upper arm bone.

This large, fan-shaped muscle works to adduct your arm, which means that it pulls your upper arm across the front of your body.

When you are pushing something, your pectoralis major is active to stabilize the front of your shoulder. The muscle also helps with respiration during heavy breathing.

How Your Pec May Tear

Your pectoralis major muscle may tear if it becomes overloaded, generally during activities where you are pushing something. The tear often happens during a bench press exercise. When you are lifting heavy weights and the pec tendon becomes overloaded, it may tear as a result.

Other forceful encounters, such as a fall onto an outstretched arm or a sudden and violent pull on your arm may also tear your pectoralis major tendon.

Symptoms of a Pec Tear

There are specific signs and symptoms that may happen if you have ruptured your pectoralis major muscle. These may include:

  • An audible pop in your chest or shoulder during the traumatic event that caused your injury
  • Pain in the front of your shoulder
  • Difficulty lifting your shoulder and arm
  • Difficulty pushing things, like a door
  • Bruising in the front of your shoulder
  • Swelling in the front of your shoulder and chest
  • Distorted shape in the front of your chest on the affected side

If you have any of these symptoms and think you may have torn your pec, you should visit your physician immediately. They will be able to examine your condition and diagnose your problem.

Diagnosis of a pectoralis tear relies mainly on the clinical examination. Your doctor will ask you how your pain and limited motion began. Generally, your description of the mechanism of your injury and your symptoms will lead your physician to suspect your pec has torn.

A disrinct test called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be completed to confirm the suspected diagnosis.

There are three grades of muscle and tendon tears. Your pectoralis tear will likely be graded by your physician. The grades are numbered by severity.

  • A grade I tear is just an overstretching of the pec tendon.
  • A grade II tear is a partial tendon tear; some of the tendon is torn and some is still intact.
  • A full-thickness tear of your pectoralis muscle or tendon is a grade III and is the most drastic. Grade III tears typically require surgery as an initial treatment to correct.

Initial Care for a Pectoralis Tear

Once a pec tear has been diagnosed you can get on the road to recovery. Initial care may include surgery to restore the proper position of your pectoralis muscle.

Surgery involves sewing your pec tear back into place on your upper arm. After surgery, a period of six to eight weeks of immobilization in a sling may be required by your physician. 

If you do not need surgery, your physician may still require that you wear a sling. The sling helps to keep your upper arm and shoulder still to allow your pec tendon to heal. Typically, a sling is worn for four to eight weeks.

During this initial time of immobilization, you may use ice to help control the pain and to decrease swelling around your shoulder and chest. Ice should be applied for 10 to 15 minutes a few times each day.

Be careful not to suffer a frost burn on your skin; placing the ice pack in a towel wrap is recommended.

When Should Physical Therapy Begin?

You may be wondering how soon you can begin physical therapy after a pectoralis injury. Usually, individuals with a grade I pec tear can begin physical therapy about seven days after the injury.

Grade II pectoralis tears require a some more rest and immobilization, so Physical Therapy will likely begin about three to four weeks after the injury.

A grade III tear requires a bit more rest, so your physical therapy will begin about six weeks after the injury. If you have had surgery, your local Palmdale Physical Therapist may start about six weeks after surgery.

Everyone’s injury is unique in there own way, so be sure to talk with your physician to understand when the best time for you to start Physical Therapy.