3 reasons pectoralis minor muscle is the supervillain of upper body pain – from a physical therapist - Be My Healer
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By Sophie Xie / March 22, 2016

3 reasons Pectoralis Minor muscle is the Supervillain of upper body pain

3 reason pectoralis minor causes upper body pain

Ever seen guys with beefy chest muscles? (Oh, you are one of them?) They are showing off their pectoralis major muscle.

Today, we are discussing the man boob’s cousin, pectoralis minor muscle.

The pectoralis minor muscle itself is harmless and helps support our ribs and shoulders. However, it tends to become a supervillain for upper body pain in the clinical setting.

If you have poor posture, shoulder pain, or worse, tingling and numbness in your arm, you will want to read the following three reasons why a shortened and tight pectoralis muscle needs your attention today.

Reason #1: It locks you into a rounded and slouched posture

Now, slouch. Do you notice how your shoulder rounds forward towards your chest? Now imagine clipping your shoulders in this position so that you cannot pull your shoulder straight no matter how hard you try. You have just pictured a tight pectoralis minor condition.

Often, my patient will describe to me “I really want to have a good posture. But for some reason, I can’t even pull myself straight

Tight and shortened pectoralis minor muscle force shoulder blades and shoulder joints to protract forwards the ribs in front. To compensate for this restriction, you upper back rounds up (humpback)and your chin points forward as well, putting more loads on the cervical (neck) spine.

If you suffer from a shortened pectoralis minor muscle, you may also experience difficulty breathing, mostly from the limited rib motion.

Reason #2: It prevents normal shoulder movement and increases risk of shoulder impingement

Everything simply works better when they are where they meant to be.

pec minor muscle

That said, working with shoulders when they are forced out of normal alignment is like break-dancing on ice: a disaster waiting to happen.

To be precise, your humerus bone(upper arm bone) will run into the top of your shoulder, and your rotator cuff muscle (at least one of them) will be pinched and grinded in the process. In addition, there will be other angry soft tissues such as bursae that will make their opinion known to you.

Reason #3: It can cause arm tingling and numbness, or arm heaviness through nerve and arterial entrapment

This condition is often referred to as the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

There are other conditions that may cause Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) as well, which I will discuss in future posts. However, pectoralis muscle tightness is among the top three common conditions that cause TOS symptoms, and it is so easy to reverse.

What happens is this: the main nerves and blood supplies go into your arm through the front and underside of your arm pit. On their route, they travel precisely underneath the pectoralis muscle. When the pectoralis minor muscle becomes tense, shortened and tight, it behaves like a choke hazard and cuts off the main nerve and blood supply to your arm.

Loads of fun, right?

Finally, how to stretch pectoralis minor muscle to relieve upper body pain?

Here, we will introduce two different ways to stretch the same muscle. You are welcome to try both.

Door Stretch

pec minor and major stretch

Part one:

  • Find a doorway. Bend your elbow 90 degrees and elevate your shoulder 90 degrees (as in surrendering pose).
  • Put your elbow and hands on the frame of the door, and lean forward through the doorway to feel the stretching in the front of your shoulder and chest.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and relax. (Note: be gentle on this one to avoid shoulder flare up pain)

Part two:

  • Now raise your shoulder higher so that your elbow is in your chin or at face level.
  • Keep elbows and hands on the door frame.
  • Lean through the doorway to feel the stretch closer to your collarbone.

The first part targets part of the pec major chest muscle. The second part will target some of the pec minor fibers.

If you have shoulder pain, tingling or numbness in your arm, be extra cautious with this stretch. If at any time your symptoms worsen with this stretch, stop immediately and avoid stretching until condition improves.

Sun Rise Stretch for Pec Minor

pec minor stretch supine
  • Lay down on a comfortable but firm surface with knees bent. Start the stretch on your right side.
  • Put your right arm 90 degrees to your side; bend elbow and rest hand on your surface you are laying on. This way, your right elbow is one the same level of your shoulder and your right hand is somewhere near the level of your forehead.
  • Rotate both knees, or your right knee only, to the left side so that your pelvis is facing left.
  • Now, relax your shoulder down into the supporting surface, and hold this stretch for 30 to 90 seconds, as comfort allows. Then repeat on the opposite side.

This stretch has some lower back rotation components, and might be irritating to people who have lower back pain. Stop stretching immediately if your lower back symptom or shoulder pain worsens.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful.

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