The pectorals are made up of the pectoralis major muscle, which assists in shoulder and arm movement, and the pectoralis minor muscle, which helps the rib cage rise. Tightness of the pectoral muscles can result in back, neck and shoulder pain, and trigger points in the pectorals cause the shoulder blades to pull forward, which results in bad postural alignment. Massaging the pectoral muscles can help reduce tightness and relieve constriction.
The pectoralis major is a large and robust muscle covering an expansive portion of the chest, crossing over the sternoclavicular, acromioclavicular and glenohumeral joints. Its fan-like structure separates into three parts, all of which have fibers running in different directions, attaching to the clavicular, sternal and costal sections. The pectoralis major assists in shoulder rotation, arm extension and flexion, and is central to postural alignment. Pectoral massage is often engaged to assist in the rehabilitation of sports injuries, and the Sports Injury Clinic suggests utilizing pectoral massage when free of pain to aid the healing process. Pectoral massage doesn’t have to be limited to athletes; many people can benefit from massage of this often overlooked region of the body.
The smaller pectoralis minor muscle is located deeper than and perpendicular to the pectoralis major. It attaches to the third, fourth and fifth ribs and is inserted at the coracoid process of the scapula, securing the scapula to the chest. This muscle has fibers running vertically to the pectoralis major and helps the rib cage rise during inhalation, which is especially helpful when exercising or partaking in strenuous physical activity. If you suffer from asthma, or have excessive amounts of mucous in your chest, massaging the pectoralis minor can help strengthen chest muscles, relieving tension while increasing circulation. This muscle also is involved in depressing the shoulder in a down and forward movement. Overuse puts a strain on the rhomboids, causing upper back pain and rhomboid spasms. The pectoralis minor muscles can be massaged with the thumb, using a twisting motion across the muscle belly to relieve tension and ease back pain and spasms.
A lack of stretching, excessive sporting activities and weight training can all lead to shortening in the pectorals, Yoga Journal explains. If your job involves extended periods spent bent over your desk, or long-distance driving, you might experience shortness and tightening in your pectorals. Although the pectoralis major might look thick, its fascia is actually thin and delicate in structure, being bigger in males and smaller in females. When your pectorals are tight and constricted, pain in the upper cervical and lower neck region can occur, as can pain in your chest or breasts, shoulders and upper back. Rounded shoulders and a forward-thrusting head indicate a tight and knotted pectoralis major.
It’s not uncommon to experience numbness and a tingling sensation in the arm, hand and fingers when the pectoralis minor muscles are constricted, symptoms which closely mimic carpal tunnel. This is due to the fact that the brachial nerves and major vessels traverse under the pectoralis minor. Pain in the upper back and the rhomboid region also is caused by tight pectoralis minor muscles. Massage can help relax and loosen pectoral tightness to relieve pain and correct postural alignment.
Massage Techniques and Practice
The pectoralis major muscle can be massaged using a combination of compression and stripping techniques with proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, stretches to lengthen the muscle, increasing flexibility while manipulating the belly to release trigger points and loosen constricted fascia. Pectoralis major massage is less invasive if you are a male, and for women proper draping is recommended. Wear a sports bra if this makes you feel more comfortable while receiving your pectoral massage. Direct contact should never be placed on the breast; instead, a professionally trained massage therapist should palpate the area around your breast tissue while you lie supine or on your side. The pectoralis minor muscles can be accessed through the armpit, although extra caution needs to taken when working in this area to avoid impacting nerves and blood vessels. It is also possible to palpate this muscle by compressing the medial inferior section of the pectoralis major muscle while moving the arm.
Eshe Asale is a holistic massage therapist who began writing in 1995 with articles appearing on various websites and in "Iqra" newspaper and the "Between Love, Hope and Fear" anthology. She holds a massage therapy certificate from Lourdes Institute, a Master of Arts in media studies/communications from Goldsmiths University and a Bachelor of Arts in writing and publishing/film studies from Middlesex University.