How to Recognize and Treat a Pulled Chest Muscle
Persistent aching or pain in one of both of the muscles in the upper torso could be a sign of a pulled chest muscle. The primary muscles in the chest occur in sets: the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. These muscles are found at both halves of the upper torso and reach from the top of the bicep to the center of the chest. These muscles are used in many everyday movements such as lifting the arms up, moving the arms towards each other, pushing objects, and lowering the arms. The pectoral muscles are even responsible for moving the shoulder blades downward. When one or both of these muscle groups is pulled, the injured party needs to take every precaution to properly diagnose and treat the injury as soon as possible.
Symptoms of a Pulled Chest Muscle
A pulled chest muscle, also known as pectoral strain, is primarily marked by pain in the upper and/or lower region of the pectoral area. In order to properly diagnose the severity of a pulled muscle strain, medical professionals group the injury into three grades. A grade one strain produces discomfort of the chest, especially when the injured muscle is being used. The injured party may feel the need to “baby” his or her movements by limiting mobility of the arms and shoulders. Some loss of strength in the shoulders and chest may be perceived but should not be significant.
A grade two strain shows more intense symptoms than a grade one. This type of strain is marked by pain in the chest when the pectoral muscles are in use and some discomfort while the muscles are at rest. There may be slight bruising on the injured chest muscle along with slight swelling and redness. There will be a noticeable loss of strength and the injured party will feel the need to restrict movements to avoid intensified pain.
A grade three strain is marked by significant pain in the chest area when the muscles are in use and at rest. One will also experience loss of strength in the chest, arms, and shoulders. Movements involving the arms, shoulders, and chest will feel very difficult and will be severely limited. The chest wall will likely display signs of inflammation such as swelling, redness, and elevated warmth of the affected tissues. There will likely be a physical deformity of the muscle, such as a lump or an indentation. The area may also be affected by severe bruising deep under the skin.
Causes of Pectoral Muscle Strain
The most common cause of pectoral muscle strain is quick, overextension of the muscle. This is most likely to occur in athletes such as tennis and baseball players who tend to make quick, powerful movements with the chest muscles. If the muscles are pulled too far the fibers will develop tears which weaken the muscles and cause pain and limited muscle use for the injured party. Pectoral muscle strain can also be caused by overuse of the muscles. This is common in individuals who participate in sports or who frequently use the chest muscles for work. Direct trauma to the pectoral muscle may also cause a strain to occur.
The primary treatment for a one or two-grade pulled chest muscle is rest. As soon as the injury takes place the individual should refrain from using the chest muscles, which might involve keeping the shoulders and arms as still as possible. To reduce swelling, redness, and the initial discomfort one may apply an ice pack to the injured muscle for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes the individual must refrain from using the ice pack for half an hour to allow the skin to recover. Excessive use of the ice pack could permanently damage skin and muscle tissues. Ibuprofen or naproxen are over the counter anti-inflammatory medications that will help to combat swelling, redness, and discomfort caused by inflammation. Immobilization is the best way to reduce unnecessary movement of the chest muscles. One may try using an ace bandage to tightly wrap the torso. This will stabilize the muscles and prevent twitching and other restless movements.
Stage three strains should definitely be treated by a doctor. This type of strain could be indicative of a severe injury. If complete loss of muscle use occurs then the injury should be treated as a medical emergency as it could be possible that the muscles have been completely severed. Severed muscle requires a surgical procedure in order to reattach the tissues. When such an injury occurs, time is definitely of the essence as the longer one waits to have the muscle reconnected, the greater the risk there is of the muscle being permanently weakened.
Preventing Future Strains
The key to preventing future strains is to be cautious when performing sports, active hobbies, and work tasks. Knowing one’s limitations and keeping firm control of the body’s movements is key to preventing this type of injury. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to prevent a pulled chest muscle, especially when repetitive actions at work or home require use of these muscles. Those who suffer from recurring muscle strains may benefit from the use of a brace or supportive undergarments to keep the chest stable.