Pectoral Tear or Rupture

By Ehren Allen, Certified Manual Therapist/Physical Therapist

Pectoral Tear or Rupture or Pec Tear

What is the Pectoralis?

The Pectoralis major is a large muscle in the front of the chest.  There is one on each side and it attaches to and sternum, ribs, and collar bone (clavicle).  The other end of the muscle attaches to the arm near the shoulder.  The pectoralis majors are common muscles to strengthen in the gym.  These muscles are worked with bench press and push-ups (as well as many other exercises).  The pectoralis majors are a focus for many bodybuilders and with folks working on general fitness.

Image of a pectoral tear or torn chest muscle by JOI REHAB

Image of a Pectoral Tear or Rupture or Pec Tear

The pectoralis minor is a smaller muscle that helps to connect the shoulder blade (scapula) to the front of the rib cage.  It helps to pull the shoulder blade forward.  It is less common injury than the pectoralis major.

What Do I Do With a Torn Chest Muscle? 

The first thing to do is to apply ice to the area where the muscle is painful or injured.  If all movements of the shoulder or arm on the injured side are painful, use a shoulder sling.  It is important to get evaluated by an orthopedic physician as soon as possible.

What are the Symptoms of a Tear to the  Pectoral Muscle?

A pectoralis tear can vary in the level of pain.  Typically, a torn pectoralis very painful.  There can be severe bruising in the chest, shoulder, and arm.  There may be a gap in the muscle tissue visible with a pectoral tear.

Using or lifting the arm on the side of the torn pectoral would likely be painful and weak.  There may also be swelling in the chest region and shoulder with severe soreness.

Can a Pec Tear or Rupture of the Pectoral Muscle Heal on its Own?

The quick answer is a mild and partial tear of the pectoralis major may be able to heal on their own over time.  Physical therapy is typically recommended to limit scar tissue and flexibility issues.  Ice and stretching may be helpful for the first few weeks.  Progressive strength training is typically part of physical therapy as the swelling and pain decrease.

If there is a complete tear of the tendon away from the bone, surgical repair is typically necessary.

Pectoralis Muscles by JOI REHAB

Pec Muscles


How long does it take to recover from a Torn Pec?

The healing and rehab process can take anywhere from 6 months to a year after a surgical pectoralis repair.  The first part of the rehab process consists of managing the pain and swelling and initiating a range of motion in the shoulder and arm.  Light strength training usually begins about 2 to 3 months after surgery.  It can take up to a year to regain normal strength in the repaired pectoralis major.

If there is no surgical repair, the length of recovery depends on the severity.  As with all muscle and tendon strains, managing inflammation and beginning early mobility are important.  Strengthening typically begins when pain and acute inflammation have decreased.

What does a Torn Pec feel like?

A mild pec strain can feel like a sharp pain or a pulling or tearing sensation in the pectoral muscle.  A severe tear or rupture is commonly described as the worst pain imaginable.  There is a spectrum of severity though.

Most pectoralis tears occur with traumatic movement of the arm backward or with weight lifting too much with the bench press.  Prolonged anabolic steroid use can weaken connective tissue and increase to the risk of tearing a muscle or tendon such as the pectoralis major.

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Author: Kathryn Trumble, DPT, ATC

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