Rupture of the pectoralis major: a case report and review

J Emerg Med. 2010 Feb;38(2):196-200. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.01.025. Epub 2008 Sep 25.


Background: Rupture of the pectoralis major muscle is a rare clinical entity that is becoming more common due to the increasing popularity of weightlifting and recreational sports. Due to the rarity of this condition, it may be missed at initial presentation and inappropriately treated, potentially leading to increased disability.

Objectives: This case highlights the mechanism of injury, clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment of rupture of the pectoralis major.

Case report: The patient was a 31-year-old male bodybuilder who presented to the Emergency Department with acute pain and swelling in the left axilla after performing a bench press with a 400-pound barbell. The diagnosis of pectoralis major rupture was suspected and confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging, and early surgical repair was performed.

Conclusion: The most common mechanism of injury is excessive tension on a maximally contracted pectoralis major muscle. Weightlifting, specifically bench pressing, is a common cause. The diagnosis can usually be made based on a patient's history and physical examination, but shortly after injury, the diagnosis may be obscured by severe pain and swelling. Magnetic resonance imaging is the imaging modality of choice when the diagnosis remains unclear, and can avoid surgical delays. Early diagnosis and treatment within 3 to 8 weeks after the injury has the advantage of avoiding adhesions and muscle atrophy, and can prevent a delayed return to normal activities. Given the trend toward improved results with early surgical repair of complete rupture, it is important to raise awareness about pectoralis major muscle injury among Emergency Physicians to prevent missed or delayed diagnosis and repair.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pectoralis Muscles / injuries*
  • Pectoralis Muscles / pathology
  • Pectoralis Muscles / surgery*
  • Rupture, Spontaneous