Muscle strains cause tiny tears in your muscle fibers. These injuries typically occur when a muscle is overstretched. While injuries to the pectorals -- a group of muscles located on each side of your chest -- are not common, they can occur when bench pressing too much weight or attempting to lift an object that is too heavy. Physical therapy may be prescribed if you have an injured pectoral muscle.
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The pectoral muscles -- the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor -- occur in pairs, with one pair located on each side of your chest. The pectoralis major muscle runs from your breastbone, collar bone and ribs to your upper arm bone, moving your shoulder in toward your side and rotating it in toward your body. The pectoralis minor muscle runs from your ribs to your shoulder blade, pulling your shoulder blade downward.
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, according to the National Center on Health Sciences Information. Electrical stimulation -- delivered through pads placed on your pectoral muscle -- uses electrical current to decrease pain and increase blood flow to the injured area. However, this treatment will not be prescribed if you have a pacemaker. 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.
Range of Motion Therapy
Range of motion of your shoulder may be decreased with an injured pectoral muscle. Exercises are 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.
After injury, your pectoral muscle may tighten up -- a condition called muscle guarding -- as the body attempts to protect the area from further injury. Stretches are performed to gently stretch the muscle to reduce this tightness. These stretches should not be painful, as overstretching can further injure your pectoral muscle. Pectoral stretches are performed by reaching your arm out to the side until you feel a pulling sensation across your chest. The corner stretch -- performed by facing a corner and placing both forearms against the wall, while gently leaning forward -- will also help stretch your pectoral muscle. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, repeating 3 to 6 times. Your therapist may also instruct you to stretch at home between therapy sessions.
Strengthening exercises are performed in therapy once your pectoral muscle has healed -- typically 6 weeks after the injury occurred, according to an article published in 2010 by "The American Journal of Sports Medicine." Dumbbells, elastic bands, wrist-cuff weights and exercise machines are used for strengthening. Pushups, chest presses, dumbbell flys and bench presses are examples of pectoral-strengthening exercises that may be performed during your therapy session. 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.
Severe pectoral muscle injuries may require further medical care. If you have not already seen a doctor and therapy interventions are not improving your symptoms, your therapist may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation.