Symptoms of a torn pectoral muscle

Updated July 19, 2017

When you tear the fibrous tissue of your pectoral (chest) muscle, it is often excruciating. Since the pecs are used to help lift and move your arms, it's nearly impossible to avoid using these muscles. If you believe you have a torn pectoral, you'll need to take a lengthy break from exercise. Your practitioner might also recommend physical therapy or even surgery.

Severe Pain

When you rupture a pectoral muscle, the first thing you'll notice is severe pain in the chest, front shoulder and possibly the upper arm. Some people experiencing the injury might think they're having a heart attack. After the initial injury, the pain of a pectoral tear can be exacerbated by arm movements, sneezing, coughing or laughing. If you think you have a pectoral tear, use ice and immobilisation to manage symptoms until you're able to confirm the diagnosis with a physician.

Bruising and Swelling

Beginning shortly after the initial injury, you might notice mild to severe swelling and bruising in your chest, shoulder and upper arm. This is an indication of trauma in the pectoral region, and these bruising and oedema symptoms can last several weeks.

Reduced Power and Mobility

Torn pectoral muscles greatly reduce your ability to lift weight in front of your body. You might experience severe pain and weakness when performing daily activities such as placing a gallon of milk in the refrigerator, opening a car door and picking up your child. You might notice pain and muscle weakness when lifting your arms to the sides of your body as well.


Torn pectoral muscles are most often caused by weightlifting past the point of muscle fatigue or stretching a cold or over-fatigued chest muscle. Weightlifters can also experience a pectoral tear if they are using improper form while bench-pressing. If you regularly bench-press, remember to squeeze your shoulder blades together, train the triceps to assist the chest and don't lower your elbows past the bench. While a torn pectoral is usually a weight-lifting injury, the condition might also result from doing force-based activities such as tackling, chopping wood, pitching or batting.


If you believe you've torn a pectoral muscle, immobilise the arm, shoulder and chest as much as possible, and apply ice every 20 to 30 minutes. It's important to make an appointment with your practitioner immediately because tears often require surgery or regular physical therapy. Treating the injury sooner rather than later minimises the build-up of scar tissue and reduces chances of severe muscle atrophy.

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About the Author

Shannon Peddicord is a Denver freelance writer/editor with Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a Master of Arts degree in communication.