Serratus Anterior: The Big Swing Muscle

serratus anteriorYour serratus anterior muscles quietly work with other torso muscles to lengthen the reach of the arm by wrapping the scapula forward toward the chest. It’s the muscle we use when we rotate our arms upward, for example, when lifting or reaching for items over our heads. The power of a boxer’s punch and extend of reach also come from the serrates anterior assisting with your scapula protracting and retracting. Serratus stabilizes positioning of the arm and shoulder too, and that’s why it’s a target for yoga poses like turbo dog, downward facing dog at the wall, handstands, forearm balances, dolphin and wheel.

Anatomically, the serratus anterior originates on the surface of the 1st to 8th ribs at the side of the chest and inserts along the entire anterior length of the medial border of the scapula (shoulder blade). The muscle serves as both an antagonist and a synergist to the rhomboid muscles.

Problems in the serratus anterior can result from prolong positioning with the arms forward (like typing on your computer or mobile device), driving or gardening. People with asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can also experience soreness in the serratus muscles since the muscles are used during breathing, particularly “labored breathing” like you’d do after exercise.

The Serratus Strength Test

Slip off your shirt and do a push-up. Have someone watch your back. If your shoulder blades stick out, it’s known as “winged scapula”, it can indicate a weaker serratus. A stronger serratus assists the scapula during this type of moment and shoulder blades won’t wing up as much.

When your serratus anterior muscles are weak, they can contribute to rotator cuff issues, numbness down the arm, neck problems, poor circulation in your upper body and reduced lymphatic return through the armpits. Incline pushups, starting at the lowest incline where your shoulders don’t “wing” and working your way up, are a great way to strengthen the muscles.

Reducing soreness in Serratus

A sore serratus anterior muscle can give you pain on the sides of your chest and can refer down the inner side of your shoulder blade. It can also radiate (refer) down your inner arm. It’s often associated with neck pain, too, since the serratus muscle tries to compensate for a verity of shoulder and neck conditions. A qualified massage therapist will work the origin and insertion as well as the body of the serratus muscle along with the antagonist and synergist muscles, and around the neck and shoulder muscles, to provide relief.