In the seventh game of the season this year against the Atlanta Falcons, Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots star linebacker, suffered a torn pectoral muscle (connecting the chest to the shoulder) that caused him to miss the rest of the NFL season. On the play, Hightower was moving to his left, the Falcon running back juked to his right and Hightower stuck out his arm trying to make an arm tackle. Hightower’s feet had already started to slip out from underneath him and the force of the impact caused his feet to leave the ground, he was spun around in the air and then landed face down on his elbows. Somewhere between the forces of contacting the runner and contacting the ground, his right pectoral muscle was torn. A high force, directed backwards against the arm when the pectoral muscle is elongated, is a typical mechanism for this type of injury.
It is unclear if the muscle tore someplace in the middle or if the tendon was torn from the bone (though a tear in the muscle might not have required surgery) but he underwent successful surgery October 26th to repair the injury.
On December 12th, he said that he was “ahead of schedule” so he should be progressing well with his rehab. For the first couple of weeks, rehab would have mainly been about limiting the swelling with frequent icing, and protecting the surgical repair by having the arm in a sling except for gentle passive range of motion exercises for the shoulder called pendulum exercises.
Once the initial swelling (and pain!) calmed some, roughly between weeks 2 and 6, he should have been able to start passively moving the arm in different directions to move the joint and place gentle stretch through the repaired area. He also likely performed gentle isometric exercises (force is applied but no movement is allowed to occur) to keep the muscles in the area active, and to perform exercises for the shoulder blade and arm at the elbow and below.
At about the two-month mark, the goals are to ensure full active range of motion and gradually increase the strength in the area, with care not to go too far, too fast. This is likely the stage he is in now and it is a great sign he feels ahead of schedule. Between now and opening day next season, he’ll continue to strengthen up for the demands of yet another NFL season.
By Tom Fontana, MSPT