Pectoralis major tear

Pectoralis major tears, also known as pectoralis major ruptures, are an uncommon traumatic injury of the pectoralis major

  • mostly young, physically-active males age 20-40 years old, although has also reported in elderly women 1
  • associated with weight lifting (mostly bench press), although also reported during various athletic activities e.g. martial arts 1, American football 1, gymnastics 3, parachuting 4
  • associated with anabolic steroid use 3, although this is reported inconsistently 1
  • reported incidence increasing since 1960s 1

The diagnosis is often made by history and examination alone 3. Common signs and symptoms are as follows 5:

  • acute pain and sudden weakness during muscular loading (not always)
  • swelling/bruising along the chest and/or arm
  • weakness in shoulder adduction
  • thinning or loss of the axillary fold (anterior contour between lateral aspect of pectoralis and axilla)
  • palpable defect

The structure of the pectoralis major is complex, with different segments of the two/three muscular heads contributing to shoulder motion in different ways 1,2. Most tears are thought to occur by indirect mechanism 3, during eccentric loading of the muscle during shoulder abduction and external rotation, such as occurs during lowering of weight during bench press.

Injury may occur at several locations:

  • sternal or clavicular muscle origin
  • muscle belly
  • myotendinous junction
  • tendon
    • intratendinous
    • humeral insertion (with bone avulsion)

The location is important in consideration of treatment. Myotendinous and tendon/humeral insertion tears are most common.

Tears may be either an acute or chronic in nature.

Ultrasound features that may help diagnose a pectoralis major rupture include 2:

  • disruption, dehiscence, or absence of tendon distally with retraction of tendon and muscle fibers
  • associated hemorrhage (initially hypoechoic, becoming progressively heterogenous with hematoma organization)
  • abnormal echotexture of muscle belly if muscle belly injury

A dedicated study of pectoralis muscle may be required and a typical shoulder MRI usually does not allow optimal visualization of the pectoralis major muscle 2. In obtaining images, respiratory motion artefact may be minimised by abdominal breathing techniques.

Features characteristic of injury include:

  • tendon absence distally with retraction
  • fluid gap in place of tendon

Optimal methods for treatment of pectoralis major tears remain under investigation, and depends on location and extent of tear, chronicity, and patient factors. There is increasing evidence that surgical management may improve outcome in physically active patients 5.

Complete tears, particularly of the tendon or myotendinous junction, are more commonly managed by surgical repair, consisting of either suturing or bone tunneling techniques. Near-complete recovery of shoulder adduction strength is common 3-5.

Partial ruptures or low-demand patients are often managed non-operatively.

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Article information

rID: 63969
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Pectoralis major rupture
  • Pectoral tear
  • Pectoralis tear

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