The serratus anterior muscle is a muscle located on the front and sides of the rib cage. It originates on the upper eight or nine ribs, and inserts on the medial border of the scapula (shoulder blade). The serratus anterior muscle is responsible for protracting the scapula, or pushing it forward, and also helps to rotate the scapula upward. This muscle is important in movements such as punching and throwing. It is also involved in maintaining good posture.
The serratus anterior muscle is located under the armpit and can be seen or felt as a series of ridges on the rib cage. It is a thin, fan-shaped muscle that is often referred to as the “boxer’s muscle” because it is well-developed in people who participate in activities that involve punching, such as boxing and martial arts. The serratus anterior muscle is also used in activities such as climbing, swimming, and gymnastics.
Injury or weakness in the serratus anterior muscle can lead to problems with scapular stability and posture, as well as difficulties with arm movement. Treatment may include physical therapy to strengthen the muscle and improve scapular movement.
Function of the Serratus Anterior Muscle
The serratus anterior muscle is a prime mover in protraction and upward rotation of the scapula. Protraction of the scapula involves pushing the shoulder blade forward, away from the spine. Upward rotation of the scapula involves tilting the top of the shoulder blade upward.
The serratus anterior muscle works together with other muscles of the shoulder blade and upper back to produce arm movements. For example, it works with the pectoralis major muscle to lift the arm forward and upward, and with the latissimus dorsi muscle to lift the arm backward and upward.
In addition to its role in arm movement, the serratus anterior muscle also plays a role in maintaining good posture. It helps to keep the scapula in a stable position against the rib cage, which in turn helps to support the shoulder joint and keep the upper body upright.
Weakness or injury to the serratus anterior muscle can lead to problems with scapular stability and posture, as well as difficulties with arm movement. This can be particularly problematic for people who participate in activities that require arm movement, such as sports or manual labor. Treatment may include physical therapy to strengthen the muscle and improve scapular movement.
Common Issues with a Serratus Anterior Muscle
There are several common issues that can occur with the serratus anterior muscle, including:
- Weakness: The serratus anterior muscle can become weak due to inactivity or a lack of use. This can lead to problems with scapular stability and posture, as well as difficulties with arm movement.
- Strains or tears: The serratus anterior muscle can be strained or torn due to overuse or improper technique during activities that involve arm movement, such as sports or manual labor.
- Pain: Pain in the serratus anterior muscle can be caused by a variety of factors, including strain, weakness, or poor posture.
- Tendinitis: Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons that attach the serratus anterior muscle to the shoulder blade. It can be caused by overuse or improper technique during activities that involve arm movement.
- Frozen shoulder: Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition in which the shoulder becomes stiff and painful due to inflammation and scarring of the shoulder joint. The serratus anterior muscle may become weak or inhibited in people with frozen shoulder.
If you are experiencing problems with your serratus anterior muscle, it is important to seek medical attention to determine the cause and receive proper treatment. This may include physical therapy, rest, and other forms of treatment depending on the underlying cause.
How to stretch your Serratus Anterior Muscle
Here are a few simple stretches that can help to stretch and lengthen the serratus anterior muscle:
- Doorway stretch: Stand in a doorway with your arms resting on the door frame at shoulder height. Lean forward through the doorway, keeping your arms straight, until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest and under your armpits. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then release.
- Wall stretch: Stand facing a wall with your hands resting on the wall at shoulder height. Step forward with one foot and lean forward, keeping your arms straight and your hands on the wall. You should feel a stretch in the front of your chest and under your armpits. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then release.
- Plank with shoulder taps: Start in a plank position with your hands resting on the ground under your shoulders. Tap your right shoulder with your left hand, then your left shoulder with your right hand. Repeat for 10-20 reps. This stretch targets the serratus anterior muscle as well as other muscles of the upper back and shoulder.
Remember to stretch slowly and gently, and never force your body into a position that feels uncomfortable or painful. If you feel any pain during these stretches, stop immediately and seek medical attention.
How to Rehab your Serratus Anterior Muscle
If you have a weak or injured serratus anterior muscle, it is important to follow a rehab program to help strengthen and restore function to the muscle. Here are a few steps you can take to rehab your serratus anterior muscle:
- Rest: If you have a strained or torn serratus anterior muscle, it is important to give the muscle time to heal. Avoid activities that put strain on the muscle, such as lifting heavy weights or participating in high-impact sports.
- Ice: To reduce inflammation and pain, you can apply ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can design a rehab program specifically for your needs. This may include stretches and exercises to strengthen and lengthen the serratus anterior muscle, as well as other muscles that support the shoulder blade and upper back.
- Scapular stability exercises: Exercises that focus on scapular stability, such as planks and push-ups, can help to strengthen the serratus anterior muscle and improve scapular stability and posture.
- Gradual return to activity: As you progress in your rehab program, it is important to gradually return to your normal activities and sports. Start with low-impact activities and gradually increase the intensity and duration as your muscle strength improves.
Remember to follow your physical therapist’s recommendations and to listen to your body. If you experience any pain or discomfort during your rehab program, stop the activity and seek medical attention.