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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: Scapular winging

It is no secret that proper scapula alignment and muscle activation makes for a healthy shoulder.  There are many forms of dysfunction that may be present.

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Generally speaking problems revolve around muscular tightness/weakness and faulty movement patterns.  The term “SICK” scapula is often used and refers to Scapula Inferior Coracoid Dyskinesis.  Common examples of a “sick”  scapula include:

  • Type I - Inferior border prominence.  This is typically related to tightness in the pec minor and weakness in the lower trapezius.  Keep in mind the upper trapezius will naturally dominate the lower trap in the force couple with the serratus anterior for upward rotation.  You may also see increased thoracic kyphosis which will inhibit the normal resting position of the scapula.
  • Type II - Medial border prominence.  In this case the scapula is internally rotated or protracted and there is liekly weakness present in the rhomboids and middle trapezius.  The serratus anterior may also likely be weak with evidence of scapular winging.  This position places the humerus in relative internal rotation and increases risk of impingement with arm elevation.
  • Type III - Superior border presence.  Here the scapula appears elevated in the face of an overactive upper trap and/or levator scapulae.  With active arm elevation, you may notice excessive shrugging or superior humeral head migration in light of the imbalance.  Again, the lower trapezius is probably weak and being overpowered.

Click here for a great graphic display from the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons of how the scapular muscles work collectively as a force couple to promote optimal movement in the shoulder.

In many of the throwers and overhead athletes I see in the clinic, they often exhibit either medial border prominence of inferior border prominence.   Additionally, I frequently observe GIRD (glenohumeral internal rotation deficit) values of 20 degrees or higher in those patients who come in with symptomatic shoulders (rotator cuff and/or labral issues).  What does this mean?

Well, in a nutshell, it means addressing posterior capsule tightness in the throwing shoulder is important for avoiding internal impingement and SLAP tears.  Tightness (or too much GIRD) can increase the load/tension in the late cocking phase of throwing thereby contributing to friction between the cuff and labrum, as well as excessive torsion on the proximal biceps tendon.  Any excessive humeral head migration with repetitive throwing is a recipe for injury over time.


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Research along with years of observation has taught me that the brain is inherently looking for the most efficient way (aka least effort) to execute movement in life.  In addition, it HATES pain just like you and I so it does everything possible to avoid it including ordering the body to perform dysfunctional movement patterns.

After a painful episode, the brain often needs reminded that the body can go back to the proper movement patterns once the pain is gone.  However, it often holds that painful memory and may by default lean toward a faulty movement pattern.  This protective mode then ends up perpetuating a faulty movement pattern that is no longer necessary nor efficient.  Over time, dysfunctional movement patterns can create further stress or harm to other segments in the kinetic chain.

So, I am always seeking ways to stimulate the body to work properly and exercises that facilitate proper neuromuscular patterning are instrumental in my rehab and training.  I wanted to share two exercises that I like to utilize in my rehab and training for the shoulder.  In particular, I like to employ closed chain activity to stimulate the serratus anterior as well as the other scapular stabilizers.

Below are two exercises I wrote about in my “Functionally Fit” column for PFP magazine.  The first exercise shows quadruped rocking.  Shirley Sahrmann mentions this in her work, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes.  I began using it after reading her book, and I agree that it works very well for scapular dysfunction.  Below is the start and finish position for the quadruped version as well as my own advanced tripod version of the exercise.

For a complete explanation of the exercise and its application, click here to read the column.

As a follow-up to this exercise, I included an unstable progression I like to employ using the BOSU trainer.  I call this the unstable tripod scapular clock.  It can be done on the knees or up on the toes.  I have included a quick video on this below. Again, I like this exercise for scapular work as well as core stability training.

Click here to read my PFP column on this exercise for the full description, application and regressions. The real beauty of this last exercise is the “big bang for your buck” attributes since it hits shoulder, core and hip stability all at once for those able to work at that level.  I hope it works as well for you as it has for me!

By far the most common problem I see in the clinic is shoulder pain. Most of the time it is related to overuse, rotator cuff tendonitis/impingement and labral tears. Because we are geared more toward sports rehab, I also treat a lot of overhead athletes (baseball players, volleyball players and swimmers).

A common thing I will see in those suffering from impingement or rotator cuff pain is scapular winging. Most of the time the muscle is simply deficient in strength/endurance and it along with the lower trap become overpowered by the upper trap, levator or even the rhomboids. Shortened scapulohumeral muscles, poor posture and pec tightness can also impact winging.

There are many traditional exercises such as serratus punches, push-ups with a plus, and serratus plank push-ups to name a few, but I wanted to include a closed chain exercise that can be very effective for facilitating proper activation of the serratus - quadruped rocking.

In the video, I show it with both hands fixed on the floor progressing to one hand (on the involved side). The key is quality of movement throughout. After you check out the video, be sure to scroll down and click the link to a full column I wrote for PFP magazine on this exercise as it further explains the technique and application.

Click here to read the online column for PFP Magazine.