What every athlete needs to know about pectoral muscle strains

Pectoral strains, also known as pectoral sprains, are a common injury in sports, especially for an athlete participating in weightlifting. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Tavaris Jackson is just the latest athlete to become inflicted with this medical injury.

If you are an athlete, here is everything you should know about pectoral muscle strains, and the impact it can have on your career in sports.

What are the pectoral muscles?

Pectoral muscles are very large, and they protrude out from each side of the chest. These muscles are responsible for helping the arms, and shoulders lift objects, so they are essential for weightlifting. The pectoral muscles are also important in many other sports, including football, baseball and basketball, since they help the arm and shoulder move properly. Any athlete that does an exercise like a push-up is using his or her pectoral muscles, and they can often be seen moving during the exercise. The pectoral muscles are one of the strongest muscles in the body, so it is very hard to strain them, but being involved in athletics is one of the most common ways they do become strained.

Common ways pectoral muscles become strained

Athletes have a high risk of straining the pectoral muscles, due to the constant use of the shoulders, arms and chest. There are two different ways that the pectoral muscles can become strained as an athlete: traumatic injury or overuse and a chronic strain. Traumatic injury, or long-term use, occurs to an athlete such as a football player or wrestler. Traumatic injury means that there is a hard blow to the pectoral muscles, and the muscles strain under the sudden impact. Overuse often occurs to a football player, due to the fact that pressure is being applied to the chest on a regular basis, and there are often blows to the area that weaken the muscles. Chronic strains occur when the pectoral muscles basically break down over time and often will tear as a result of an athlete overusing the pectoral muscles. Usually, the chronic strain will happen either to the muscle itself or to the tendons surrounding the muscle. Since pectoral muscles can occur to an athlete after trauma, it is important to know how to identify the symptoms of a strained pectoral muscle.

Symptoms of a pectoral muscle strain

There are a lot of symptoms a pectoral muscle strain will cause to an athlete, and he or she will notice them immediately. Some of the most common symptoms include pain the chest, loss of strength during exercises or sports that involve lifting. The pain might be very intense, with a small window of relief, but will worsen during sports. An athlete might also notice swelling and bruising around the chest area, and having a hard time moving the arm across the chest. The swelling and bruising is the most noticeable, since both symptoms can move toward the shoulder or arm. An athlete suffering this injury could notice a loss of grip, which is something he or she will notice during exercises or sports activities.

Treatment for a pectoral muscle strain

An athlete will likely have to undergo treatment in order to relieve the symptoms of the pectoral muscle strain. For the first few days after the diagnosis, an athlete will want to put ice packs on the chest area two to three times each day. You should know that ice packs should only be left on the pectoral area for about 20 minutes at a time, and then taken off for a while for the best results. Obviously, an athlete will want to stop all activities that caused or worsen the pectoral muscle strain, including sitting out a game or two, so that the muscle can heal. If an athlete notices severe pain, then he or she should seek medical attention right away. Medical attention is needed if the pain is severe because the pectoral muscles might be ruptured, which means surgery would be required to repair the injury. To reduce pain or inflammation, an athlete will want to take aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, after seeking medical advice on what specific medicines are right for him or her. The best treatment is rest and ice—this will allow the muscles the opportunity to heal properly. If the pain is severe or if the injury does not improve, then an athlete will want to seek medical attention right away to ensure he or she is getting the best treatment possible, which will help them return to sports quicker.

Overall impact and recovery

As with all injuries, the biggest impact on an athlete is the pain, and rehabilitation to get the muscles back to original condition. An athlete should never try to get back to sports before the pain has stopped, and before the strength of the arm, shoulder and chest have returned back to normal. Range of motion is also important in sports, so an athlete should also make sure that his or her range of motion has returned fully, before even thinking about getting back into the game. The recovery period for an athlete mostly requires on how bad the pectoral muscle strain is, because there are different levels of impact. If the pectoral muscle strain is a grade one, then it will only take a few days for an athlete to recover, and return back to sports. A grade two strain requires a matter of a few weeks recovery time, and will have little impact on the athlete overall. A grade three strain is a complete pectoral muscle tear, which requires surgery to repair and months of rehabilitation before returning back to sports.

In order to stay in shape, and regain strength while recovering, an athlete should be doing low impact activities a few times each week. Low impact activities include riding a stationary bicycle, jogging and walking, which will help an athlete stay in shape. The most important aspect to recovering from the injury is being able to go through all of the physical activities without pain, so that is when you know you are good to go.

I worked in the dietary department in a hospital for three years, obtained certification in nurse assisting, and went to vocational school for Allied Health.

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Updated Thursday, Oct 13, 2011