BALTIMORE – A torn pectoralis major muscle, or pec muscle, is a serious injury striking boxers, pro wrestlers, body builders and even a growing number of military servicemen.
It's a condition that requires surgery, therapy and time to put a patient back together.
Oscar Puerto is passionate about staying in shape.
The high school football standout and former boxer had been on an aggressive weight lifting program to build body mass.
Six months ago, it caught up with him during a bench press.
"I'm on my last set, and I feel my shoulder telling me, I should stop now. I didn't listen. I thought I had one more in me," Puerto said.
Puerto felt sudden pain and lost control of his arm. He had no idea he had torn his pectoral muscle, the large muscle that goes from the chest wall through the arm.
"It tears off and they feel a pop and they have severe bruising and swelling. Then they have a deformity because the muscle tendon unit has pulled off," said Dr. John-Paul Rue, an orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, who specializes in sports injuries.
To fix the deformity, Rue made an incision in the chest wall and stretched the muscles back into place, anchoring them to the bone.
"They should return to full functionality -- 100 percent -- within six months," Rue said.
Eager to get back into shape, Puerto started back too early, and developed a hematoma that created a crater-like hole and required another surgery.
This time, he's following doctor's orders, doing nightly exercises to improve his range of motion. He's looking forward to going back to the gym when his body's ready.
In addition to athletes, Rue treats military servicemen at Walter Reed Medical Center.
Rue said the pec tear is one of the top three non-battle injuries that requires surgery.
Rue said many servicemen, especially those stationed overseas, are using their downtime to stay in top shape and may be overtraining.