Signs of a Pulled Chest Muscle

Man doing bench press
Be careful when you bench press. (Image: Ridofranz/iStock/GettyImages)

Chest pain can cause you to fear the worst, so it makes sense that it's one of the most common reasons people visit their doctors. But more often than not, the cause of chest pain is musculoskeletal and benign.

Sports activities and weightlifting — especially when deconditioned or not properly warmed up — are common causes of pulled chest muscles. If you feel sore, have localized swelling or bruising, decreased mobility and muscle spasms you may have pulled a chest muscle. Always confirm the cause of pain before deciding how you will treat it.

Tenderness and Stiffness

Chest pain caused by a pulled muscle is the result of trauma that can occur several days before the pain appears. Consider any activities you have done recently that might result in a pulled muscle. Injury from direct trauma can cause tenderness of the chest wall muscles. You will notice tenderness when pressing on the area with your fingers.

Depending on the severity of the strain, you may experience a loss of mobility. You may not be able to open your arm out to the side or raise it above your head. Once swelling has subsided, this should improve. You can begin to gently stretch the chest muscles once you no longer feel pain.

Pain and Weakness

Chest muscles are pulled and strained in varying degrees. The mildest pulled muscle injury yields few tears and little weakness. A moderate injury results in more tears to the chest muscles, and loss of strength and mobility. The most severe injury causes the muscle to rupture, potentially requiring surgery and other medical interventions.

The most obvious sign of a pulled muscle is pain. However, the level of pain relates to the degree of injury. With a muscle strain, pain can be felt when stretching, lifting, reaching or exerting the affected chest muscles. A moderate or severe strain will also result in weakness, due to a muscle tear.

Ice and over-the-counter pain relief medications can be used to control pain and tenderness associated with mild to moderate muscle strains. If your pain is more severe, contact your doctor.

Muscle Spasms, Swelling and Bruising

A pulled muscle can also cause swelling in the chest area and muscle spasms. A muscle spasm is the result of inflammation caused by strain, causing the muscles to contract suddenly. Pain may also be present with muscle spasms. Localized bruising may also appear.

To relieve swelling, ice can be applied immediately after injury, but should be limited to 20-minute applications. You can reapply the ice treatment every few hours.

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