Mondays, am I right? We have muscle Mondays and a lot of gym rats have a different kind of Monday…CHEST DAY. What are we talking about? Pecs. Specifically, pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
The pectoralis major muscle is the main showstopper, attaching from your sternum, collar bone and a little bit of the abdomen to your upper arm bone (the humerus). It’s extremely powerful and even more important in moving your hand through space. Imagine trying to use your hand if you couldn’t bring your arm down to your side very well, lifting your arm ahead of you, turning your arm in to look at your watch, or reaching across to touch your other shoulder. Those are all the actions your pec major participates in. Having a tight neck or neck/shoulder injury can pinch important nerves that your pec major needs to function properly and pain-free.
The pectoralis minor, while not a muscle you will flex in the mirror, is still a very important part of this muscle group. It is located deep to your pectoralis major, and attaches from your 3rd, 4th, and 5th ribs to a part of your coracoid process (that’s a part of your scapula that extends out to the front of your body). You can feel the coracoid process if you run your finger along the front side of your collar bone out towards your shoulder, stop on the collar bone just as you get to the big, rounded front part of your shoulder, and go down about an inch. If you press firmly with one finger and it hurts, you’re on the coracoid process.
Why is the pec minor so important to consider in relationship to your shoulder blade, or anything for that matter?
It’s tight in most people! Are you a side-sleeper? Do you spend a lot of time at a desk with your head forward and your shoulders rounded? Or do you just generally not have good posture? Chances are, you said yes to at least one, if not all, of those questions. Any of those things can make your pec minor tight, and a tight pec minor attached to the coracoid process means your scapula gets tilted and pulled forward.
Lift your arms as high as you can in front of you…now slouch over with the worst posture you can and try again. Did your arms get very high the second time? Most likely not. Did you feel a pinch in your shoulder doing that? We hope not. With the scapula pulled forward like this, it makes it so when you try and lift your arms up in front of you, your humerus bumps up onto another front part of your scapula (the acromion). It pinches your rotator cuff, which is called a shoulder impingement. This is a condition that PT’s see ALL THE TIME.
With so many of us sitting or standing with poor posture, that shortened pec minor creates the perfect recipe for a bad rotator cuff. Then you REALLY will have problems using your hand and arm. Many important muscles get weak or tight from this posture, which is what we call Janda’s Crossed Proximal Syndrome. This imbalance throws off our proper functioning of the shoulder complex and contributes heavily to neck pain, headaches, and a plethora of other issues too long for this post alone.
Who do we usually see having problems with their pectoralis major and minor?
More than likely, you! The general population has issues with at least one or both muscles and typically won’t know it until pain arises, typically when they have a shoulder impingement or a rotator cuff tear from years of small pinches like we described. Climbers, golfers, athletes who throw or do overhead movements, and bodybuilders are at high risk being affected by these issues as well.
How will you know the best way to heal or avoid an injury to either of your pectoralis muscles?
To identify the true cause of your pectoralis major and/or minor issues, you really need a full assessment of all of the muscles of your upper extremity and neck, and someone to analyze your movement patterns. At Nashville Physical Therapy we have specialists who can perform a Total Body Wellness Assessment and/or Movement Analysis in which we can identify any weak muscles, tight muscles, joint restrictions, and movement pattern issues where we can provide the specific exercises needed to address the true cause of your pain.
Interesting facts about the pectoralis muscles:
The pectoralis major muscle is unique in that it receives innervation from TWO nerves: the medial and lateral pectoral nerves.
The pectoralis minor muscle receives innervation from the medial pectoral nerve.
Stretching the pectoralis muscles is extremely important for people who sit a lot throughout the day because maintaining good flexibility of this muscle group is super important for preventing shoulder issues, neck issues, upper back issues and other postural pain complaints.
Many weight-lifters have unbalanced chest strength compared to shoulder blade strength which leads to a forward-rounded shoulder position, and ultimately can contribute to shoulder injuries such as impingement syndrome. So, remember to balance those chest-press exercises with rows!
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