Muscle strains — also known as pulled muscles — cause tiny tears in your muscle fibers. These injuries typically occur when a muscle is overstretched. According to an article published in 2017 by Musculoskeletal Imaging, the bench press exercise has become more popular, leading to an increase in pectoral injuries since the early 2000s. Physical therapy interventions decrease pain and restore motion and strength as part of your pectoral strain treatment.
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Pectoral Muscle Pain Treatment
Physical therapy treatments are used to decrease pain after injury to your pectoral muscle. Moist heat is often used to increase blood flow to the injured area and help your muscles relax. Electrical stimulation — delivered through pads placed on your pectoral muscle — uses electrical current to decrease pain and increase blood flow to the injured area.
Ultrasound may also be performed over the injury to increase blood flow to deeper structures in the muscle. At the end of your session, ice may be applied to decrease pain that can occur during treatment.
Increase Range of Motion
Range of motion of your shoulder may be decreased with an injured pectoral muscle. Exercises are part of pectoral strain treatment performed in therapy to restore this motion. Three types of range of motion exercises are common in therapy: passive, active assisted and active. Passive range of motion exercises are performed as the therapist moves your arm while you have it in a relaxed position.
Active-assisted exercises use pulleys, exercise sticks or your opposite hand to help you move the injured side. Active exercises require you to move the injured arm on its own. These exercises are progressed, typically in this order, as your pain decreases. Your therapist will likely give you exercises to perform between therapy sessions as well.
Read more: Exercises for a Pec Tear
Stretch It Out
After injury, your pectoral muscle may tighten up — a condition called muscle guarding — as the body attempts to protect the area from further injury. Perform stretches to gently lengthen the muscle to reduce this tightness.
These stretches should not be painful as overstretching can further injure your pectoral muscle. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times. Your therapist may also instruct you to stretch at home between therapy sessions.
Do the corner stretch to improve chest flexibility: Stand facing a corner with your feet staggered. Lift your arms to shoulder height and place both forearms flat on the wall. Slowly lean in until you feel a stretch across your chest. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times. Lower and raise your arms slightly and repeat to stretch other parts of your pecs.
Strengthen Your Pecs
Strengthening exercises are performed during the pec strain recovery time once you have full range of motion without pain. Dumbbells, elastic bands, wrist-cuff weights and exercise machines are all utilized in therapy for strengthening.
Pushups, chest presses, dumbbell flys and bench presses are examples of pectoral-strengthening exercises that may be performed during your therapy session. To help prevent reinjury, begin with light weights, such as 5-pound dumbbells, when resuming bench presses. Once you are able to perform 10 repetitions with good form and no pain, slowly increase your weights.
Postural exercises and instruction in proper body mechanics are often included as part of this routine. Physical therapy is discontinued when you have returned to your normal daily routine, including sports activities.
See a Doctor
Severe pectoral muscle injuries may require further medical care. A pec tendon rupture requires surgical intervention. Symptoms of this injury often include an audible "pop," loss of movement, bruising and swelling. Therapy is required after a tendon repair and, although strained pectoral muscle healing time varies by the severity of injury, rehab typically lasts for several months.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.