The symptoms of pulled chest muscles may range from very mild to severe, from dull to quite sharp, and from aching to stabbing pain. It depends on how you have injured your chest muscles.
If you just tweak the structure of your chest muscles, the pain may not be bad. If you’re not quite that lucky, you may have strained a tendon. If you’re much less lucky, you might have torn your chest muscle. It’s really more about the tendons, rather than the muscles.
Pulled chest muscles may be painful and serious. The symptoms and signs will vary, depending on their severity. The treatment for this injury will depend on how severe it is, but as a rule, it will involve rest, relief from pain, possible surgery, therapy to recover your strength and exercises that will restore proper function to the muscles.
The chest muscles are the pectoralis minor and the pectoralis major. The p. minor muscle is thinner and smaller than the p. major, which lays under it. P. major is the thickest and largest of all the muscles in the chest.
Together, these muscles are all important in hand and shoulder movements. In addition, many activities you take for granted, like cooking, lifting objects and driving are not possible to complete without pain when you have pulled chest muscles.
If you pull a chest muscle, it won’t endanger your life, but you may feel like it does, because the symptoms and signs are so much like that of a heart attack. Many people who have pulled their chest muscles panic and call 911, or have someone take them to the local emergency room. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s better to be safe when it comes to chest pain.
Even though a chest muscle pull is frightening and painful, most are easy to treat, and there is not usually a long period of recovery. The only exceptions are torn muscles, which we’ll talk about below.
Pulled Chest Muscles – Who is at Risk?
Chest muscle injuries may occur when there is excessive stretching or pressure, or sudden jerks, on those muscles. This type of injury could happen to anyone, but it is most common along athletes, performing sudden or repeated chest movements in strenuous or unusual ways.
Baseball players diving for fly balls, tennis players trying to reach and return a ball, or hockey players who spread out their body to block a shot are three solid examples of athletes who are most at risk for pulled chest muscles.
Other people who have a risk for these muscle pulls include young children and the elderly. Young children may experience chest muscle pulls when they fall. Kids are curious by nature, and don’t pay as much attention as they should to potential dangers in the areas where they play. In addition, friends, parents or guardians sometimes pull children’s arms forcefully or unnaturally. These create risks for pulled chest muscles in children.
Elderly people may sustain these types of injuries when they fall, since they don’t have good coordination skills, or lack proper balance. They may also be confused, or lack the proper muscle strength necessary for preventing injury-causing falls.
Pulled Chest Muscles – Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms and signs of injured chest muscles may be very painful. In addition to pain, other symptoms may occur within the first 24 hours after an injury. They include chest tightness and a burning pain that increases when the affected area is moved.
Chest muscle pulls are categorized and classified as Grade I, II or III. Grade I, as you would expect, is the least severe. This injury usually only affects several nerves and muscle fibers. The symptoms and signs most often associated with Grade I pulls include mild levels of:
- Edema (swelling)
- Limitation of arm and shoulder movement
- Discomfort and pain in the chest
- Loss of strength
Grade II pulled chest muscles involve additional muscle fibers as compared to injuries in the Grade I class. They can even lead to partial muscle tears and more extensive pain and tissue damage. Bruising may be present if the injury was the result of blunt force trauma, as may be often seen in sports like hockey or football. Symptoms and signs of Grade II chest muscle pulls include:
- Significant strength and movement loss
- Mass in the muscle that can be palpated or felt, since there is swelling in the area
- Soreness over and around the injury site
- Chest pain, especially with shoulder or arm movement
Grade III chest muscle pulls are more severe than the other two classes. They involve complete tearing and the loss of nearly all muscular function. It can be the cause of serious, permanent damage if it isn’t treated. Some of the symptoms and signs include:
- Very significant limitations in movement and strength
- Pronounced chest and muscular pain
Pulled Chest Muscles – Treatments and Recovery
Treating chest muscle pulls will depend on how severe the injury is. As a rule, the treatment will involve these interventions:
Rest – You must avoid any physical activity that could worsen the condition, or increase the pain level. Rest allows the muscles to begin healing.
Pain Relief – Pain may be relieved with mild analgesics like acetaminophen and the application of ice packs. The ice packs help in pain relief, inflammation decreases and swelling reduction.
Surgical Repair – Surgery is sometimes required with Grade III injuries, in order to properly repair the muscles that have been torn.
Rehabilitation – You may benefit from physical therapy, in order to restore proper function, so the muscles will work as they did before the injury. After the injury, consult your physician before exercising, to make sure that the muscle has healed to the point that it can be used.
Light resistance, stretching and strength exercises will be very beneficial during your period of recovery. Your physician will release you and let you know when you may begin physical therapy and exercise.
The typical period of recovery after Grade I or Grade II pulled chest muscles is a few days. If you had a Grade III chest muscle pull, it could take weeks or even months for full recovery. This is due to the injury severity and any surgery done to repair torn muscles.