Pectoralis Minor Muscle Pain: Signs and Symptoms
Pain in the front of the shoulder and upper chest is the most common symptom of pectoralis minor dysfunction. Pain can be due to a muscle tear/strain, repetitive stress injury, and trigger points.
Symptoms of a pectoralis minor muscle strain or tear:
- Sudden stabbing pain in the chest or shoulder area
- A tearing sensation is often felt
- Swelling in the shoulder and/or chest
- Bruising in the shoulder and/or chest
- The area is sensitive to touch and pressure
- Movement of the shoulder is painful
- Moving the arm out to the side or behind the body is painful
- Muscle spasms in the chest and shoulder are common
- Weakness is experienced in the shoulder and arm
- Breathing is often difficult and painful
- Coughing and sneezing can cause excruciating pain
Symptoms of repetitive stress injury and trigger points in the muscle:
- Pain in the front of the shoulder that can radiate into the chest area. Chest pain is an aching pain that can become sharp and stabbing with certain movements of the shoulder and arm.
- The pectoralis minor muscle tightens and puts pressure on the blood vessels and nerves that run under the muscle. This will cause tingling and numbness on the inside of the upper arm, elbow, and inside of the forearm that often descends into the hand including the ring finger, little finger and occasionally the middle finger.
- Rounded shoulder posture is a common sign of a shortened pectoralis minor muscle. The muscle tightens and becomes short pulling the shoulders forward.
- Pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades is often experienced due to the pec minor pulling the shoulders forward causing the upper back muscles to remain in an extended stretch. A band of pain just under the shoulder blades is also common.
Where is the pectoralis minor muscle located?
The pectoralis minor muscle is located toward the outside of the chest. It attaches the 3rd, 4th and 5th ribs to the front of the shoulder blade (coracoid process of the scapula).
The pectoralis minor muscle is a small muscle that can cause big problems.
What movements does the pectoralis minor muscle control?
The pectoralis minor pulls the shoulder and shoulder blade down and aids with inspiration by lifting the upper ribs so you can breathe in.
What causes pectoralis minor pain?
There are many contributors to pectoralis minor pain including repetitive strain injury, trauma injury, and illness.
Repetitive strain injury occurs when small injuries happen again and again due to doing the same movements repeatedly. It affects bones, joints, muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues found in the skeletal and muscle systems.
Working at a desk with your shoulders rounded and reaching for the while keyboarding or writing puts enormous strain on the pectoralis minor muscle.
Repetitive strain injuries of the pectoralis minor muscles are common and include:
- Working with your arms out in front of the body. Using computers/laptops can put enormous strain on the pec minor if the arms are not properly supported. Sitting in a chair and reaching to use the keyboard rolls the shoulders forward and shortens the pec minor putting pressure on blood vessels and nerves that run under the muscle.
- People who have jobs or hobbies that require holding the arms up and overhead for extended periods of time can develop problems in the pec minor.
- Lifting heavy objects using your shoulders and arms without engaging the leg muscles to lift will strain the muscle. Picking up items with your arms straight out in front of the body is another muscle stressor.
- Exercises like push ups and planks that require your arms and shoulders to lift and hold your body up. Start slowly and build up the number of reps and time the position is held.
- Free weights and kettle balls using improper technique or pushing past your body conditioning can strain or tear the pec minor.
- Carrying a heavy purse, or backpack can put pressure on the muscle cutting off circulation causing carpal tunnel or thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms of aching, numbness, and tingling in the shoulder, arm and hand.
- Women with large breasts often experience shortened pectoralis minor muscles as well as the upper back pain caused by the shortened muscle and trigger points in the muscle.
Even free weights can stress the pectoralis minor if your lifting motion is short and jerky. Keep your motion as smooth as possible.
Pectoralis minor injuries and traumas:
- A direct blow to the chest can injure the pec minor muscle. This can be the result of an automobile accident and hitting the steering or being held by the shoulder restraint. A fall, or an errant ball hitting in the chest/shoulder area are other common factors.
- Whiplash not only affects the muscles of the neck but also the muscles in the upper back, shoulder, and chest which includes the pectoralis minor. If you have suffered a whiplash injury chances are you have developed trigger points in the pectoralis minor.
- Strains, tears and rupture of the pectoralis minor muscle typically happen during weight lifting, sports, and adventure sports. These injuries happen when the muscle is fatigued or stretched to its maximum capacity. Football quarterbacks and baseball pitchers can fatigue and tear the pec minor if they throw the ball until the muscle is fatigued (overuse syndrome). Sports and activities that have high incident pectoralis minor of injury include:
- rodeo (bronc and bull riders)
- water and snow skiing
Hard coughing and sneezing can make the pectoralis minor muscle sore and contribute to the development of trigger points.
Pneumonia, emphysema, COPD, allergies, and other conditions that cause sneezing and coughing can cause the pectoralis minor muscle to become sore and develop trigger points.
People who take short shallow breaths, known as chest breathing, stress the pectoralis minor.
Look in a mirror while you are breathing normally. Is your chest rising? Are your shoulders moving up and down? If you notice either of these while breathing, you are not breathing correctly. Practice breathing deeply, breath in until your abdomen distends then breath out slowly. This is the correct way to breath. Become aware of your breathing patterns until deep breathing becomes a habit.
Chest and Belly Breathing
Watch yourself breathe in a mirror. What moves? Your chest or your abdomen?
If you are shallow breathing or chest breathing the movement will be in your chest. This is unhealthy for many reasons but it specifically overworks the pectoralis minor muscle because it raises your upper ribs so you can inhale.
Deep breathing or belly breathing uses the diaphram, a muscle that lies in between the chest and abdomen. Deep breathing allows the lungs to better expand providing more oxygen for the body.
Breathing correctly is important for your health. An excellent resource is Learn To Breathe a DVD that walks you through exercises to correct improper breathing patterns. Recommended for those who want to learn how to breath and for people who struggle breathing because of injury or disease.
You use the pectoralis minor when you drop or pull your shoulder down. When you take a deep breath the pec minor helps raise the ribs to expand the chest area.
Interesting facts about the pectoralis minor muscle:
- The pec minor is a major contributor to rounded shoulder posture. When the pectoralis minor muscle tightens and shortens, it pulls the shoulders forward which causes hunched upper body posture and upper back pain.
- The pectoralis minor along with the scalenes, are known as neurovascular entrappers. Tight shortened pec minor and scalene muscles can put pressure on the axillary artery as well as nerves in the neck / shoulder area restricting circulation to the arm and causing symptoms such as numbness and tingling.
- Pectoralis minor pain patterns closely mimic the pectoralis major pain patterns. Pectoralis minor pain tends to be more intense in the front of the shoulder than pec major pain.
Pectoralis minor muscle pain and symptoms can be similar to, contribute to, and be affected by these medical diagnosis:
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Supraspinatus tendonitis
- Adhesive capsulitis (Frozen shoulder)
- Shoulder pointer
- Neurovascular entrapment
- Subdeltoid bursitis
- Bicipital tendonitis
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow)
- Shoulder pointer
- Glenohumeral joint separation
- Gallbladder dysfunction
- Heart disease
Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the pectoralis minor:
Recommendations To Relieve Pectoralis Minor Muscle Pain and Symptoms
Warm Therapy Gel: Relax the Muscle and Reduce Pain
Heat is often the best treatment for the pectoralis minor muscle because pain is usually caused by overuse and posture issues rather than injury. Heat will help relax the muscle and surrounding tissues to reduce pain and increase mobility.
Hot/Cold Pack For Pectoralis Minor Treatment
The CorPak Soft Comfort Hot & Cold Pack Wrap is a great choice for pec minor pain. The wrap is large enough to cover the shoulder and chest area and has a bit of weight to it that feels good during treatment. Once you are done treating the shoulder and chest you can reheat it to apply on the upper back muscles to help relieve the pain and tightness that is often caused by the pec minor. I use and highly recommend the pack because it is well made, can be used for hot and cold treatments, and can be used to treat most of the muscles in the body.
Warm Therapy Gel
Sombra Warm Therapy is an excellent pain relieving warming gel that I recommend for tight sore muscles and chronic pain. My clients like Sombra because it does not become uncomfortably hot after application like many other heating creams and gels. It is very effective at relieving muscle pain and tension. Another bonus is it has a mild citrus fragrance that does not have a strong odor that lingers. (not available in stores)
Cold Therapy for Pectoralis Minor Injury
Cold therapy is usually used for injuries and swelling. If you have torn the pectoralis minor muscle, taken a direct blow to the chest/front of the shoulder, or have suffered a whiplash injury, ice or a cold pack would be the recommended first treatment. For a cold pack you can use the Corpak Soft Comfort Pack referenced above. It works well for injury treatment because it is soft and can be molded to the area.
Cold Therapy Gel
Cold therapy gels can be used between cold pack treatments to help relieve pain and reduce swelling. BioFreeze Cold Gel is one of the best and is recommended by doctors, physical therapist and athletic trainers. Though it is not a replacement for ice or cold packs, BioFreeze works much the same. It cools the area and works to reduce swelling. It is also very good at reducing pain for several hours after application.
Learn to Self Treat Trigger Points In The Pectoralis Minor To Reduce Pain
Trigger points in the pectoralis minor can cause pain in the shoulder, chest, arm and hand. Trigger points can also contribute or even cause the tingling and numb feeling that goes down the arm into the hand and fingers. The good news is that you can learn to treat your own trigger points.
The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is one of the best resources to learn about trigger points and how to treat them. The authors do an excellent job of walking you through the trigger point phenomena and their effects on muscle system. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about and how to treat muscle pain.
FYI: Satellite trigger points associated with the pectoralis minor:
A muscle trigger point often produces more trigger points in other muscles within the pain referral area. These are called satellite trigger points.
If you find trigger points in the pectoralis minor it is likely you will find trigger points in some or all of these muscles. The Trigger Point Workbook will help you find and treat these:
- Pectoralis Major
- Anterior Deltoid
- Sternalis Muscle
Recommendations to Reduce Stress and Strain on The Pectoralis Minor
Find An Ergonomic Office Chair With Adjustable Arm Rest Height
If you sit at a desk for hours typing or writing without proper arm support you are likely to have pain in the neck, shoulders, chest, arms and upper back which can be partially contributed to the pectoralis minor. If you have to straighten your arms to reach the keyboard or if the arms of the chair set too high or too low for proper elbow and arm support, your pectoralis minor muscles will cause problems.
Ergonomic office chairs help eliminate and prevent many types of muscle pain that happen from sitting for hours at a time. To help with neck, shoulder and arm pain you need a chair that has adjustable arms so you can set the height to fit your body. Finding a chair that has adjustable arms can be difficult but one chair that is very adjustable including the arm height is the Komene Computer Desk Chair.
Twelve years of experience working with clients with chronic pain, post injury pain, and post surgery pain. Muscle dysfunction is often overlooked but can hold the key to many pain conditions.