Pectoralis Major Tear

The pectoralis major is the big and deep muscle over the chest cavity (and the much smaller pectoralis minor). It provides most of the muscle strength for the chest, allowing such activities that involve putting pressure on the arms in front of the chest. A major tear or rupture to this muscle arises primarily in men, and at the point where the pectoralis major meets the humerus (the bone running from shoulder to elbow), though this varies. Tearing of this muscle is often known as a 'pec tear' by athletes.

Symptoms of Pectoralis Major Tear

Sudden onset of pain, regularly accompanied by a notable 'tearing' sound or feeling in the chest (though this can sometimes be felt as a 'pop' or as nothing at all). The pain can strike in both the chest and the upper arms. Bruising can occur in these areas and might spread. Shoulder pain can arise as a result of taking on the responsibilities of the damaged pectoralis. Stretching the arms out in front of your body will be accompanied by a feeling of weakness, which may be worsened when putting pressure on the arms (during activities like bench pressing). You may note a 'pocket' in the armpit where the muscle ruptured.

Causes of Pectoralis Major Tear

Nearly half of all major tears are provoked during weightlifting, especially bench pressing. Any forceful and strenuous physical activity using the chest and upper arms can lead to the injury, such as rugby, hockey, football and fighting sports. Other accidents can also cause a rupture. The pectoralis tendon is compromised by steroid use, though this is not necessary for a tear to occur.

Medical Treatment for Pectoralis Major Tear

Full pectoralis tears or ruptures are usually treated with surgical intervention. It is important to see your doctor as soon as possible in order to maximise the chances of early treatment and thus the chances of a full return to activity. The procedure will depend on the type and degree of pectoralis rupture. Rupture at the humeral insertion will involve fixing the damaged tendon back to the bone, whereas a rupture at the musculotendinous junction or in the muscle itself will require a different approach, such as using combination stitching. These latter tears are often only partial.

During this process you should rest and refrain from activities that could further damage the pectoralis major. Recovery can be a process requiring commitment from the athlete, with suitable strengthening exercises implemented gradually to build up the muscle before returning to regular activities.

Prevention of Pectoralis Major Tear

As weightlifters are statistically most prone to pectoralis tearing, these athletes should focus particularly on their technique. Correct technique for bench pressing and other forms of weightlifting can greatly reduce the chances of tearing. When bench pressing it is crucial not to lower the weight bar completely to the chest or to maintain a wide grip (with the hands spaced very far apart). These practices increase pressure on the muscle.

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