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Three days ago I did my first chest workout since around the start of the year. Today, I am experiencing extreme pain from shoulder to shoulder across my chest as far down as my sternum. It is at the point where if I try to lift my arms away from my body more than about 45 degrees, shrug, lean over or even walk down stairs, it feels like my chest is going to tear down the middle.

I want to try and stretch it out a little, but the pain I get when I try is that strong that I am actually concerned about tearing something or causing some other type of similar injury.

I am not sure whether I can safely ignore what the pain is leading me to believe and do some stretches / use my normal range of motion where I can endure, or whether I am actually risking serious damage to the affected muscles if I try to use them as I normally would.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

DOMS is an inflammatory reaction due to eccentric overload and structural alteration (ref).

DOMS is distinct from an acute strain. It can be treated symptomatically as an inflammatory process (ibuprofen, cold, massage). It's also been observed that high-speed, rapid concentric muscular contractions may provide relief (same ref). Anecdotally, I support this last route.

The common advice is that as long as your warm-up returns your range of motion to what is needed for the exercise, you should be able to exercise with no increased risk of injury. Warm-up should be full-body (bicycle) followed by movement-specific warm-up at low intensity (empty-bar bench press, followed by incrementing the weight until you reach your work weight).

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The only caveat I would add is that due to the pain and your own tolerance level, you may or may not be able to use normal work weight. It's still better to do something rather than nothing as a general concept. –  JohnP Nov 15 '13 at 17:26
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