You’ve all felt it: that burning, sometimes aching, pain between the shoulder blades and spine. Rubbing the rhomboid muscles and trapezius on your back feel good, but you might wonder why that doesn’t seem to bring the relief it should. That’s because you’re probably working the wrong muscles!
This is especially important if you are a desk jockey, keeping your arms in front of your body for long periods of time. And who doesn’t work like that in this day and age?
But a muscle often overlooked when seeking relief from shoulder pain is the Serratus Anterior muscle.
The Serratus Anterior muscle originates on the first 8 or 9 ribs and the fascia between the ribs, and it moves posteriorly, wrapping around the ribs until it attaches onto the medial border of the scapula. It protracts, or horizontally abducts, the scapula, bring it around the ribs toward the front of the body. The Serratus Anterior also helps to stabilize the shoulder blade when doing push-ups or similar movements. Finally, it helps to laterally (upwardly) rotate the scapula when to allow for greater upward rotation of the shoulder’s ball-and-socket joint. It’s that stabilizing action that causes much of the shoulder pain.
Self-care and stretching
You can stretch the serratus anterior by retracting and downwardly rotating the scapula. A good, but slightly challenging way to do this is the Reverse Prayer pose, or Reverse Namaste pose. Here’s a great video tutorial on how to do it!
This is a great self-care stretch for helping to relieve some shoulder pain, free up the ribcage, and feel taller and breathe more deeply.
Bodywork is also a great way to help get the Serratus Anterior muscle to release and open. Focused work along the side of the ribs up toward the axilla, or armpit, can help to get the shoulders to become less rounded, opening the chest and releasing the rhomboid muscles in the back.