In a previous post (here) I wrote about how the serratus anterior can change rib cage position, which can change pelvic position, which will allow better position for the glutes to fire, and, thus, function more optimally. I want to continue that train of thought today, but instead of starting at serratus and going down, we’re going to go up.
Remember that the serratus is that all important muscle that connects the scapula to the rib cage. We often think about serratus as allowing us to extend our arm further away from our body, essentially rolling the scap around the rib cage. If you were to stabilize the scapula by placing your hand against the wall, when you inhale and your ribs move backwards, that is also the serratus working. In many of my clients, especially those with low, mid, and upper back tightness, the need for them to posteriorly move their ribs is of paramount importance. They need to stabilize the scap and learn to use serratus to pull their rib cage back in order to give the scap a solid resting place.
I’m sure that when you assess your clients you easily notice when their scaps are “winging” away from their ribs: it’s plain and easy to see. We know that this is an unstable or weaker position for the scap and shoulder complex to exist, so we start by getting them to reach further forward and upward to start to train serratus, mid, and low trap. What I’m suggesting is that the resting position of the scap needs to be on stable and optimally positioned ribs, and likely the scap is winging because their rib cage through the thoracic is in an extended position. If we train their scap to move forward and upward, yet their resting position is on an extended thoracic, no matter how much work we to move forward and upward, the scap will come back to a sub-optimal resting place. We must address the resting position first.
Once serratus can be used to pull the rib cage back and create some flexion through the thoracic spine, the scap will then rest in an optimal position. As we then train reaching forward and upward, we can better position the scap to move upwards, which means better facilitation of the mid and lower trap. If the mid and lower trap are functioning to maintain the scapular stability with shoulder flexion, then the humeral head (ball) can sit optimally in the glenoid fossa (socket), which allows the rotator cuff muscles to optimally control ball and socket movement. If the ball is sitting in an optimal position in the socket, then there will be less irritation and overuse of those passive structures like labrum, tendons, and bursa that often get so over irritated and cause shoulder pain.
This is an overly simplified discussion of the serratus, and it’s nothing new either. The Postural Restoration Institute is where I’m getting these ideas, so I take no credit for thinking this up myself. What PRI has helped me to understand to a far deeper degree is how chains of muscles are connected and where I need to start when it comes to dealing with client’s posture, position, and pain. What I hope it has helped you understand is that muscles have two attachment points, and we often only think about what their one function is. For example, is it always ball moving through the socket? Or can the socket move around the ball?
The next time you have a client with winging scaps, try having them extend their arms and put their hands on the wall. Then, when they breathe in, have them push into the wall to move their ribs back. That’s serratus working to position the ribs and scapulae in optimal resting position, thus leading to optimal shoulder function and performance.
Jon Rowe, BKin, CSCS, CEP