How to properly rest and recover strained chest muscles

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How to properly rest and recover strained chest muscles
Strained chest muscles are difficult to diagnose and treat. (Getty Thinkstock)

Strained chest muscles are difficult to diagnose and treat. Whenever you receive a chest injury, it is often challenging to determine exactly what is wrong, especially since fractures are hard to see on X-rays. Even if a diagnosis is made for strained chest muscles, recovery is not going to be easy. Until you have such an injury, you don't realise that almost every activity you do during a day involves using chest muscles. Chest muscles are used to lift your arm, to bend over, even just to sit up or lie in bed. This article will explore ways of properly resting and recovering strained chest muscles.

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Things you need

  • Physician care
  • Home care
  • Help during your recovery
  • Hot and cold packs
  • Comfortable pillows

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    How to determine you have a strained chest muscle

  1. 1

    If you receive a chest injury, you must first rule out more serious injuries, such as a broken rib, fractured sternum, or problem with the muscles surrounding your heart. If the injury affected your heart or heart muscles, the first part of treatment would be stabilising the heart to keep your blood pressure from falling to dangerous levels.

  2. 2

    Have an X-ray taken of your chest to rule out a more serious injury. Consult your health care provider or call emergency medical services immediately.

  3. 3

    Have a physician diagnose what is wrong with you by reading the results of the X-ray and by examining you and asking questions about your symptoms.

  4. 4

    If you were playing sports and you pulled a muscle too far by moving or stretching too much in a certain direction, you might have a strained muscle. A strained muscle could also occur if you suddenly jerked a muscle during an activity. An auto accident could cause a strained chest muscle, too. During the collision, the seat belt restraint can pull you back, causing the muscles to become strained. You may also receive a broken rib or fractured sternum from the seat belt or by hitting the steering wheel, especially if the front airbag doesn't deploy.

  5. 5

    Muscle strains occur when the muscle gets stretched beyond its limit. The muscle fibres are torn, usually where the muscle joins the tendon. You may hear a popping sound or a snapping of the muscle. The pain is often severe immediately, and frequently the area will bruise. Swelling generally is found in the injured area, although the chest may swell less than an area like the thigh or ankle.

  6. 6

    The physician will not wrap or cast strained chest muscles, or a fractured sternum or broken rib, for that matter. It is important for you to be able to breathe normally to be able to recover properly. There is also risk of a respiratory illness such as pneumonia when your breathing is restricted to small breaths.

    How to treat the strained chest muscles

  1. 1

    If you are diagnosed with strained chest muscles, the first step in recovery is to immediately stop using the muscles any more than absolutely necessary. Eliminate any activity that excessively strains the chest muscles and limit yourself to activities of daily living until your muscles begin to heal.

  2. 2

    Take any medication prescribed. You may be given instructions to take an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or Tylenol for pain. Follow dosing instructions from your health care provider or on the dosing information on the bottle. Often in the cases of severe pain, you will also be given a narcotic pain reliever. Take as necessary per instructions for the pain.

  3. 3

    Use an ice pack initially on the injured chest area for the first three days. The ice pack should not be placed directly on the skin, so have some protective barrier like a thin towel. The ice will help with swelling in the chest. You may wish to continue the ice pack past the three days if the swelling persists. Typically, an ice pack is most effective if used for 20 minutes and then the injured area is given 20 minutes rest.

  4. 4

    Try hot packs after the first three days or once the swelling subsides. These usually soothe the muscles and help provide further relief. Some people find that the heat is more irritating to the area. If so, discontinue use and consider continuing with brief use of the ice packs or nothing.

  5. 5

    Get plenty of bed rest. For your body to be able to recover from any injury, you need rest. It is hard for the body to recover when you are still maintaining your daily activities that take up your energy.

  6. 6

    Ensure you are in a proper position when resting. If you have strained chest muscles, most positions you sit or lie in will cause pain. The best position for strained chest muscles is generally lying in a partially sitting position with two or three pillows behind your back. The best type of pillows are down pillows that also offer some support to your back. A floppy pillow will cause your chest muscles to have to be used to support you.

  7. 7

    Limit your activities during the resting process. You don't want to re-injure the area. Make sure not to lift anything more than a pound or two at first, and don't stretch the chest muscles too far. Stick to easy activities such as simple walking and sitting. Even activities that seem like they won't affect the area may in fact do so. For instance, imagine driving a car and suddenly having to swerve to avoid a deer or another car and pulling the muscles abruptly that are strained.

  8. 8

    Start stretching out the area after you've rested for a few days. Too much stretching can make things worst, so start with simple stretches and don't do many repetitions. Do not stretch past the point of tolerable discomfort.

  9. 9

    Gradually add normal everyday activities back into your routine. Continue to stretch out every day, working in weight-bearing exercises lightly. You want to make sure you have completely healed before getting back into heavier weightlifting or the sporting activities that caused the injury. The area is now more sensitive to injury, so always stretch out well and be careful when you do get to the point where you engage in sporting and other physical activities again.

  10. 10

    Physiotherapy may be recommended to help aid in your recovery. A physical therapist can help show you what exercises to do to help your recovery. You might receive TENS therapy, where electrotherapy helps reduce swelling and relax the muscles. Ultrasound could be used as well to promote blood flow to the area and relax muscles to help speed healing.

  11. 11

    Make sure to continue care with your physician. Follow up care can be essential to make sure the area is healing and that you aren't doing anything to make the strained chest muscles worse.

Tips and warnings

  • A hot pack should also only be used for about 10 minutes, followed by a rest period without heat.
  • It is important to take pain medication if you have intense pain. This is to make sure you can take deep breaths while recovering. It is possible to develop pneumonia if your breathing is restricted.
  • You may find that topical creams aimed at sore muscles are effective. Test a small area first to make sure it doesn't make you feel worse or irritate the area.
  • Don't assume that just because an initial chest X-ray was negative for a fractured sternum or rib that you don't have a fracture. Sometimes an X-ray taken right after an accident or injury does not show a fracture. You may need to get a follow-up X-ray or even CAT scan a few days later if you have persistent intense pain that doesn't seem to come from a tendon, joint or muscle.

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