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Pec tear, also known as pectoralis major muscle tear is an injury caused by avulsion of the pectoralis major tendon and is common among weightlifters. Pectoralis is a large and strong chest muscle that is shaped like a fan and starts from the breastbone (sternum) and the collarbone (clavicle). The two sections join together as the “pectoralis major tendon,” which wraps around the bone in a person’s upper arm (the humerus).

How a Pec Tear Happens

The pec tear often occurs when a person’s arm to rotates externally while the muscle is contracting or tightening at a greater force than it can tolerate. For instance, the weight of the bar presses down a person’s chest muscles when he/she bench presses heavy weights on a bar and extends the arm to lift it. The tendon may rip or in extreme situations, snap as a result of that pressure.

Symptoms of a Pec Tear

  • Weakness when pushing out arms
  • Pain in the chest and upper arm
  • Bruising in the chest
  • A dimpling just above the armpit where the tear is located

Causes of a Pec Tear

The condition is usually caused by activities that require a lot of force, such as bench press workouts utilized in weightlifting. Along with serious trauma and accidents, it can also happen in other high-impact sports like wrestling, rugby, or American football.

Diagnosis of a Pec Tear

During diagnosis of a pec tear the doctor will first do a physical exam to check the shape of the patient’s chest and overall muscle mass. To confirm the diagnosis and the size of the tear, the doctor may recommend the following imaging tests:

  • X-ray
  • MRI of the shoulder or chest
  • Ultrasound

Treatment of Pec Tear

Treatment will depend on whether the patient has a partial or full pec tear.

Partial tear

In case of a partial tear in the pectoralis major or the presence of small tears at the junction of tendon and muscle, the patient might require surgery. However, surgery may not be recommended if the patient has tears within the muscle or for those who are elderly. Instead, the doctor might advise resting the injured area and using a sling. The patient may also be asked to apply ice, compression, and take over-the-counter pain medications to relieve the pain.

Full tear

For a complete tendon tear, one will need surgery to fix it and restore full strength to the muscle. To prevent the tendon from rupturing again, surgery should be performed within three months of the injury.

If the tendon has been totally pulled off from the bone, there are many surgical ways to reconnect it to the bone. For instance, the doctor might place sutures in the torn tendon and secure it to the bone in the patient’s upper arm by making a hole or by putting anchors in the bone.

Recovery After Pec Tear Surgery

For a partial muscle or tendon tear, the patient will need physical therapy for about two weeks after the injury to restore strength and motion in his/her shoulder and arm.

Following surgery, the patient will need to wear a sling for 3 to 6 weeks. At this time the patient can start small arms exercises to build strength and restore motion in the affected area.


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