What is Chest Muscle Strain?

Chest Muscle Strain which is also known by the name of Pectoral Muscle Strain is a pathological condition in which there is a partial or complete tear or rupture of the muscles of the chest. Anatomically, there are two muscles in the chest region of which one is termed as Pectoralis major and the other one is termed as Pectoralis Minor. The Pectoralis major muscle is the bigger of the two and begins at the sternum, traverses through the ribs and collar bone and joins into the humerus. The Pectoralis Minor Muscle stems from the front part of the ribs and attaches to the shoulder blade. The function of these muscles is to assist with shoulder movement like pushing objects or taking the arm across the chest. When these activities are performed repetitively there may be cases when either of these two muscles of the chest may get torn or strained resulting in a Chest Muscle Strain. These tears or strains can be classified from grade I to III and may cause loss of function of the arm depending on the grade and severity of the injury or tear.

Chest Muscle Strain

Grade I Strain of Chest Muscle: In this type, just a few muscle fibers of the chest muscles get damaged resulting in some modest discomfort but the function of the arm is not lost.

Grade II Strain of Chest Muscle: In this type, quite a few muscle fibers are damaged and there may be more significant pain compared to Grade I strains and there may also be partial loss of function of the arm.

Grade III Strain of Chest Muscle: In this type of tear, almost all muscle fibers are damaged and there is significant pain with almost complete loss of function of the arm.

What Causes Chest Muscle Strain?

One of the major causes of Chest Muscle Strain is a sudden hard force through the muscle which is much more than the muscle can withstand resulting in tearing of the muscles. This is usually with activities like repetitive heavy weightlifting, performing bench press while exercising. At times, repetitive movement of the arms across the chest during activities while at work or at home may lead to a strain of the Chest Muscles. Such activities may cause gradual progressive degeneration of the chest muscles causing injury or damage to the muscles.

What are the Risk Factors for Chest Muscle Strain?

Some of the risk factors for Chest Muscle Strain are:

  • Abnormal biomechanics when doing exercising
  • Persistent upper back and shoulder stiffness
  • Muscle imbalance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle tightness
  • Poor posture.

What are the Symptoms of Chest Muscle Strain?

The major symptom experienced by a patient with Chest Muscle Strain is a shearing chest pain in front of the chest or the front part of the shoulder when doing activities using the shoulders or while exercising. In Grade I Strain of Chest Muscle, the patient may be able to continue with activities albeit with mild discomfort. This pain will be localized to the chest area and will not radiate anywhere else in the body, except in rare cases where it may radiate to the neck region. This pain normally increases with activity. Patients with Chest Muscle Strain will also experience pain when touching the region of the affected muscles. In some cases, there may also be muscle spasms or weakness.

How is Chest Muscle Strain Diagnosed?

Normally, a detailed history taking and a complete physical examination is more than enough to diagnose a Chest Muscle Strain, although the physician may order other studies like an x-ray or an ultrasound or a CT scan to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. These tests will also confirm the severity of the tear so that a thorough rehabilitation program can be formulated for a speedy recovery and faster return to normal activities.

How is Chest Muscle Strain Treated?

The best way to treat Chest Muscle Strain is by treating it conservatively. Some of the methods for treating Chest Muscle Strain are:

  • Application of ice to the affected region for 15-20 minutes two to three times a day for about three days postinjury
  • Avoidance of activities that may exacerbate the chest pain caused due to chest muscle strain
  • Only in rare cases where there is complete rupture of the chest muscle is a surgical correction required.
  • Pain medications in the form of ibuprofen or Tylenol can be taken to control pain and inflammation associated with chest muscle strain.
  • Once pain is under control and the inflammation has been taken care of then the patient may start rehabilitation exercises and may gradually start to return to normal activities after successfully recovering from chest muscle strain.

Some of the rehabilitation modalities that are used for Chest Muscle Strain are:

  • Soft tissue massages
  • Ultrasound
  • Joint mobilization
  • Joint manipulation
  • Using a sling for immobilization and thus allowing time for the muscle to heal
  • Posture correction.

What is the Recovery Period for Chest Muscle Strain?

The recovery time for Chest Muscle Strain depends on the severity of the strain and what is the grade of the strain:

  • Recovery Period for Grade I Strain of Chest Muscle: For Grade I injuries, the recovery time is about a week to 10 days before the patient can return to normal activities.
  • Recovery Period for Grade I Strain of Chest Muscle: Grade II injuries take a while longer to heal and it normally takes around 5 weeks before the patient can return to normal activities.
  • Recovery Period for Grade III Strain of Chest Muscle: This is by far the more serious of the strains and hence takes a longer time to heal and it may take up to 10-12 weeks before the patient can return to normal activities after a Chest Muscle Strain.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: April 25, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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