How do I treat a strained chest muscle?

Heat therapy can be helpful in treating tight chest muscles.

A tight chest muscle can occur after a strenuous physical workout or a traumatic chest injury. It’s important to visit a doctor to rule out serious medical conditions, such as a broken rib or damage to the muscles around the heart. Once the diagnosis of chest muscle strain is made, treatment can begin. Some treatment options may include rest, over-the-counter or prescription medications, and heat or ice therapy.

An anatomical illustration showing many muscles of the upper body, including the pectoralis major, the large chest muscle.

Pain is the main symptom of this type of tense muscle. Depending on the severity of the injury, the pain may be constant or may intensify during any type of movement involving the chest. If the strain is severe, moving your arms can cause increased chest muscle pain. Since vital organs like the heart and lungs are located in the chest cavity, it is extremely important to get an accurate diagnosis rather than trying to self-medicate without knowing if there has been any serious damage.

Rest is important in treating tight chest muscles.

Rest is an important first step in treating a strained chest muscle. Tense or strained muscles usually heal on their own over a period of time, as long as the patient avoids activities that could cause further damage. Bed rest is generally recommended during this recovery period.

During recovery from muscle strain, pain medications can help you get more comfortable. Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen are often suggested, as ibuprofen helps reduce swelling and inflammation while also reducing pain levels. If over-the-counter pain relievers do not provide adequate relief, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

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Ibuprofen can be used to reduce pain and swelling from a strained chest muscle.

Heat or ice therapy is often recommended for the treatment of this condition. Both methods have relatively equal success rates, so whether to use heat or ice largely depends on your preferences. Many patients prefer ice therapy for the first few days after the injury to help reduce swelling. Heat therapy is often used later to help loosen the muscles. Each method should only be used for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

A tight chest muscle can occur after an intense workout, after which you should have a few days of rest and recovery before resuming activities.

After a few days of rest and recovery, the person who has suffered a muscle strain can slowly begin to resume activity. Gentle stretching exercises should begin slowly, with the patient stopping if the pain returns. Once the stretch becomes comfortable, you can slowly resume normal activities as tolerated, being careful not to do it too soon. Ongoing pain should be reported to a physician.

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