As a fitness enthusiast, you know the importance of proper form when doing exercises like bench press. But did you know that improper form, along with other factors, can lead to a pec tear? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what a pec tear is, what causes it, and how it can be treated.
The pectoralis major muscle is the strongest natural muscle in the upper body, commonly known as the pec. This large muscle is located on the chest wall and runs from the sternum and clavicle or collarbone to the upper arm bone or humerus. This muscle can be broken down into two heads, the sternal and clavicular head (although some will break the sternal head down further into the sternal and oblique or abdominal head as well). This muscle is responsible for flexing, extending, and rotating the arm inward at the shoulder joint.
The pec attaches to the shoulder by way of the pectoralis tendon, which joins the muscle to the bone. The unique aspect of this tendon is the fibers cross over each other making a 180 degree turn just before the insertion on the bone. When this tendon is overstretched or torn, the result is a pec tear.
A pec tear can involve a tear in the muscle belly, the tendon to the bone, or even a complete rupture of the pectoralis major muscle. In simpler terms, this means that the injury may be a partial tear or a complete tear of the pectoralis muscle or tendon where the muscle retracts.
The reason the pec tears is due to be stretched beyond the limits of the muscle and tendon. This typically is seen around 30-45 degrees of extension. Now the pec is the strongest internal rotator, so in order to stretch it, you do the opposite, or externally rotate the arm in this instance. How this looks in real life is your elbows are behind your body and your wrist is on the outside of your elbow. This puts the pec in a maximally stretched position. Common positions that elicit this are the bench press, dips, and low bar squats; however, the pec is isometrically contracted here so it is less likely to get injured.
The most common cause of a pec tear is the bench press exercise. The eccentric contraction of the muscle during this exercise, where the muscle is lengthened while under tension, is what makes it particularly dangerous for the pec muscle. If too much weight is attempted or performed without proper form, the result could be a pec tear.
Eccentric contractions that occur often in weightlifting are a common cause of pectoralis major tears. This type of contraction happens when a weightlifter is lowering a weight, and the muscle is lengthened while still under tension.
Direct trauma to the chest can also cause a pec tear. This can occur during a contact sports game or even a car accident. The severity of the injury will depend on the intensity of the trauma.
Pain is the most common symptom of a pec tear. The pain may be sudden and severe, and it can feel like a knife is cutting through your chest. Pain may also be felt in the armpit or up to the shoulder.
Weakness in the affected arm is another symptom of a pec tear. This can be evidenced by an inability to lift anything, even lightweight objects. You may also notice weakness when attempting to push, pull or even rotate your arm.
Bruising and swelling may also occur with a pec tear. These symptoms may not be noticeable right away, but as the injury progresses they may become more visible.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is typically the go-to method for diagnosing a pec tear. This diagnostic tool is a non-invasive procedure that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the body. The images will help physicians identify the severity of the injury and plan for the best course of treatment.
A physical examination by a doctor can also contribute to the diagnosis of a pec tear. Your doctor will look for swelling or bruising, test your strength, and check for any abnormalities or deformities. They may also ask you questions about the injury, such as when it occurred and how it happened.
In some cases, x-rays or ultrasound may be used to help diagnose a pec tear. However, these methods aren’t typically as effective as an MRI at detecting a muscle or tendon tear.
In many cases, treatment will begin with immobilization using a sling or brace. The primary purpose of this is the maintain the integrity of the repair and prevent the surgical wound from opening up. This can also help reduce swelling, pain, and give the muscle time to heal on its own.
After a period of immobilization, physical therapy may be recommended to help restore muscle function, improve range of motion, and prevent future injuries. This therapy may involve stretching and strengthening exercises, along with massage or other forms of manual therapy.
In severe cases, surgical repair of the pectoralis major tendon may be required. This involves reattaching the tendon to the bone using specialized surgical techniques. Surgical repair is typically recommended in cases of complete ruptures of the pectoralis major.
If you have experienced a pec tear, it is important to remember that proper care and treatment can help speed up the healing process and prevent future injuries. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice and take the necessary steps to ensure a full recovery.