Layne Norton Reloaded... The Comeback: Recovering From A Torn Pec (Part 2).

I was in one of the best PhD programs in the country and I was about to get married to my lovely fiance Isabel in May... life was good. No life was great! But on February 25th, 2008... it changed forever. Read on.

Article Summary:
  • Layne Norton tore his pec on Monday, February 25th, 2008.
  • He wasn't even able to bench press just the weight of the bar.
  • Layne decided that surgery was the best choice for him.

Layne Norton Reloaded... The Comeback
Part II: Reality Of The Situation

"I think it's just a strain." When the ER doc said that I felt like a weight had been lifted right off my shoulders. "Oh thank goodness, I'll still be able to compete just like before." He told me to take a week off and then try just benching the bar to see how I felt.

He told me to watch my pec close over the next 48 hours and if there was no bruising it was likely that I had not torn it. I remember going to bed that night so nervous that I would wake up and my chest would be bruised very badly, but when I awoke there was nothing, no bruising. My pec was sore and swollen, but there was no bruising. I was so relieved.

I must have gotten lucky I thought. Looking back, I still had fleeting thoughts that how could it be, the feeling I had during the lift - it felt like saran wrap ripping apart, how could it not be torn? But there was no bruising and the ER doc said I was good to go, so overall I was really relieved.

Layne Tore His Pec On Monday, February 25th, 2008.
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Layne Tore His Pec On
Monday, February 25th, 2008.

The injury had occurred on a Monday and that weekend we were driving to Columbus for The Arnold Classic to work the Scivation booth. We had a great time hanging out with friends, fans, and our friends at Scivation.

Testing A Workout

On Friday night we worked out late, I had planned to hit back, shoulders, and to try bench pressing with just the bar. I felt good. Rowing movements had no pain, pulldowns however felt somewhat awkward. I tried to bench press with just the bar and my right pec was so tight that I didn't even complete the first rep.

I decided that I should probably wait another week before testing it. As I was changing in the locker room I flexed a most muscular in the mirror. The swelling had gone down a bit, I could see that. But it also looked like my chest had a slightly different look to it. I really couldn't put my finger on it.

Pulldowns Felt Somewhat Awkward.
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Pulldowns Felt Somewhat Awkward.

I asked my friends to look at it, but they all said they thought it looked the same as before. In the back of my mind I was worried. I've looked at myself in the mirror over 10,000 times flexing (hey I'm a bodybuilder - it's what I do) and even though I couldn't pinpoint the difference, I just knew it looked different.

I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy the weekend, however. On Saturday night I was getting ready to go to sleep and I just by chance I put my hand over the spot where the pec inserts to the shoulder. It felt odd, almost as if someone had taken out a groove of muscle up near where the pec insert to the delt.

Even Though I Couldn't Pinpoint The Difference, I Just Knew It Looked Different.
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Even Though I Couldn't Pinpoint The
Difference, I Just Knew It Looked Different.

I just kept telling myself that it was a strain; the doctor said it was a strain, so it would be fine. There was no bruising, so it must be fine, I told myself. But in the back of my mind, I was slowly convincing myself that something was wrong.

Something Looked Different

We drove home on Sunday. On the way back I could feel myself getting sick, courtesy of Tommy Jeffers (thanks Tommy) who had a fever that weekend and must have given me whatever he had. I decided I'd sleep in Monday and go into lab late to try and see if I felt better. I woke up and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

As I brushed my teeth, I noticed that the swelling in my pec had gone way down. I also noticed something else; there was a big divot where the sterna head of the pectoral attaches to the shoulder. I tried flexing and it was very visible that the sterna head of the pec had retracted.

At that point reality finally set in. I had torn my pec. I didn't know how bad it was, but I knew it was torn. Somehow, it never bruised or looked really ugly like many of the other pec tears you see, but it was torn all the same. I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor for the next day.

Back To The Doctor

The doctor was very nice and examined my chest area. He said that it was his opinion that I partially tore my pec. He also advised me that I probably shouldn't have surgery and just do rehab for it. I thanked him for his opinion but also asked him to refer me to a sports orthopedic.

He obliged and referred me to Dr. Scott Paluska in Urbana, IL. I saw Dr. Paluska two days later. Dr. Paluska was very nice and had me go through various movements with my arm and pec and had an X-Ray performed on my pec to ensure I had not damaged my bone somehow.

He agreed with my assessment that I had probably partially torn my pec but he wanted to do an MRI to confirm. I was scheduled to have an MRI on that Friday and would see him again on the following Tuesday to look at the MRI.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), is primarily a medical imaging technique most commonly used in radiology to visualize the internal structure and function of the body.

By the time Friday rolled around I was very sick and had a temperature. For anyone who has never had an MRI, it is a very uncomfortable experience and being sick only adds to it.

On top of that, they wanted me to hold my arm in such an awkward position that about halfway through my MRI I started getting extreme pain in my shoulder and I was sweating profusely (MRI's actually can cause water molecules to heat up so sweating only made me hotter).

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Recovering From A Muscle Tear.

How should one recover from a muscle tear? Learn more right here about the consequences of ego and lack of warm up when training.

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It got so bad that they had to take me out of the MRI and had to towel me off as I was covered in sweat. I felt like I was inside an oven for about an hour and was absolutely exhausted when I got done. I picked up a CD with the MRI images on the way out. I then went home and slept for about 10 hours.

Waiting For The Results

Over the weekend I held out some hope that perhaps maybe I had only severely strained my pec. Maybe the MRI would show that things weren't as bad as I thought. Time seemed to drag on and on until finally Tuesday came around.

I remember walking into Dr. Paluska's office thinking, "Ok, at least today we'll know one way or the other, no matter what I can start moving forward to make this better." Dr. Paluska showed me some images from the MRI pointing out various things and finally told me that yes I had torn my pec.

Then he sighed a bit and said, "You actually tore it very badly, it's not a partial tear, you completely tore the sternal head of your pectoral off of the tendon." He then explained that I might just want to consider physical therapy because the particular type of tear I had was very hard to repair.

Jerome Dinh's Pec Tear!
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Jerome Dinh's Pec Tear!
...all of a sudden I heard these quick snaps/pops in my right chest and felt my chest buckle. I quickly racked the weight right there.
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Those were pretty crushing words to hear as I figured the worst case scenario was that I would need surgery. It never entered my mind that I might not be able to have it fixed at all! Like the old saying goes, 'you never appreciate things you have until they are taken from you.'

I knew I could still compete in bodybuilding, a torn pec wouldn't preclude me from that; but I know that a torn pec is very damaging to symmetry and the overall look of a physique. I told Dr. Paluska that I'd like him to refer me to an orthopedic surgeon that does this sort of surgery because I'd like to at least talk with a surgeon first.

I was referred to Dr. Michael Corcoran of Oak Orthopedic in Kankakee, IL and was scheduled to meet with him on Wednesday (15 days after I had originally torn my pec). Waiting in the room for the surgeon to walk in to finally hear what the final verdict would be was very unnerving.


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After waiting for about 5 minutes Dr. Corcoran came in holding my MRI. He said, "Well you've really managed to mess yourself up now haven't you?" I laughed nervously and agreed. Dr. Corcoran was very laid back and nice but also very upfront and struck me as the kind of guy who definitely would not BS you.

I knew he was a quality surgeon as he was one of the orthopedic surgeon's for the Chicago Bears and had performed surgeries on several of the Bears players and was used to dealing with athletes. He had me lie down on the table and felt the area where I had torn my pec.

He sighed a bit and said, "Well you have a tear in a really bad spot. If you had torn the tendon off the bone this would be an easy fix. But you tore the muscle from the tendon, and most of the tear is actually on the muscle side. I could open you up and try to stitch it back together but it is like trying to sew hamburger back together. There is a good chance it won't work."

Layne Norton
Layne Norton
IFPA & NGA Professional.

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I swallowed hard and thought about my options. After about 10 seconds of mulling it over I said, "I want to do the surgery. I don't want to go my whole life thinking I might have been able to get it fixed. I love bodybuilding and lifting heavy and if this surgery only has even a slight chance of success I want to give it a shot."

He said, "Ok, well we need to get you in as soon as possible because the sooner we do this the better the chance for success." We scheduled surgery for Friday, two days later.

The Surgery

On Thursday the surgeon's office called me and discussed the preparations for surgery. I decided I would go into the gym that night and workout legs and back (I could still do rows without pain). I figured it might be the last time I'd be to workout for a while.

As I was working out I started getting my mind clear and start thinking right. I said to myself "This is going to work. The surgery is going to work!" I made up my mind. Even if it didn't work I had made up my mind that this would not end my bodybuilding career and it would not derail me.

I was going to find a way come back from this no matter what. I could tell my wife Isabel was nervous that night. I smiled at her and said, "Don't worry, this is going to work, I have a good feeling." She said, "I'm glad you're so positive, I would be freaking out, h#ll I am freaking out and it's not even me going into surgery."

Layne And His Wife Isabel.
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Layne And His Wife Isabel.

In truth it would have been easy to freak out considering two different doctors had told me that the surgery likely wouldn't work, but I reached the point where I realized being negative and feeling sorry for myself was not going to help me even in the worst case scenario. All I could do was move forward.

I arrived at Oak Orthopedic at 8 AM and they promptly began prepping me for surgery. I changed into my surgical gown and the nurse began hooking up an IV line to me. I felt pretty calm and told Isabel I was going to be ok, as I could tell she was still nervous since I had never gone under anesthesia before.

All I Could Do Was Move Forward.
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All I Could Do Was Move Forward.

to begin the nurse started me on a sedative to 'take the edge off.' Shortly thereafter Dr. Corcoran came in and asked how I was feeling. I told him I felt good and I was ready. I asked him, "Do you have your game face on today doc?" He smiled and said, "yeah, I'm ready!"

They wheeled me into the surgery room and started getting me situated. The anesthesiologist then said, "I'm going to inject you with the anesthetic, are you ready?" I nodded my head and took a deep breathe in. I saw him inject the anesthetic and felt my arm get warm and then everything went black...