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Celebrate Your Subscapularis!

It seems that the rotator cuff muscles (SITS – suprapinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) are receiving a lot of press these days, yet one of its members is often obscured from the spotlight:  the subscapularis.

The largest of the four members, the subscapularis is challenging to visualize due to its location on the anterior (front) side of the scapula.  Furthermore, its deep position between the shoulder blade and the ribcage makes it tricky to palpate. And although a key function of the subscapularis is to internally rotate the shoulder, there are larger neighboring muscles that also contribute to this action, making it even more elusive to actually feel for isolating it upon contraction.

With all of this obscurity, why not just skip over it and instead focus on the larger, more easily accessible neighboring internal rotators? To begin to answer that question, let’s take a closer look at the subscapularis and its role as a member of the rotator cuff.

The subscapularis' position on the front surface of the shoulder blade can make it difficult to palpate.

This triangularly shaped muscle originates from the medial anterior surface of the scapula and is the only rotator cuff muscle that inserts on the lesser tuberosity of the humeral head (the front portion of the upper arm bone).  It fills the subscapular fossa and is sandwiched between the scapula and serratus anterior.  As previously mentioned, the subscapularis internally rotates the shoulder. Also involved in creating internal rotation are the anterior fibers of the deltoid, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, and teres major (antagonists for internal rotation are the posterior fibers of the deltoid, infraspinatus and teres minor).

So just what makes the subscapularis so important? Why should we give this member of the rotator cuff more press, respect and even celebration?

For one, we might consider that overly tight internal rotators (including of course, the subscapularis) can inhibit our ability to externally rotate our shoulders.  More importantly, however, we can find great cause for celebration of this muscle in the significant role it plays (along with the other RC muscles) in the dynamic stabilization of the shoulder.  That’s an elaborate way of saying that it prevents the shoulder from dislocating.  Consider that the glenohumeral joint has a greater degree of range of motion than any other joint in the body when it is fully functional and healthy.  The subscapularis is essential for keeping the humerus centered in the glenoid cavity (the socket) and prevents anterior dislocation due to its insertion at the anterior lesser tuberosity. If we find our shoulders to be unstable or prone to dislocation, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at the subscapularis.  In addition to this important role of stabilization, the subscapularis makes a valuable contribution to everyday activities – such as opening a tightly sealed jar, reaching around to scratch your back, clutching a book to your chest, lifting things, throwing a fast ball, swimming the overhead stroke, and even giving a hug.

So now that we’ve come to a greater awareness of the function and importance of the subscapularis, how can we awaken, lengthen and strengthen it within our own bodies? Stay tuned for some suggestions in Friday’s post!

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About This Author

Elissa Dawn Strutton, E-RYT is a certified Yoga Tune Up ® instructor and is also a certified Forrest Yoga teacher. She delights in sharing the gifts of yoga with others and is committed to providing a space that facilitates healing, self-discovery and personal growth. Elissa’s classes are challenging, yet accessible as she supports students of all levels with skillful adjustments and posture modifications. She encourages her students to connect deeply with the breath while practicing with mindfulness, honesty and integrity.

11 Responses to “Celebrate Your Subscapularis!”

  1. Emill Kim says:

    Instead of celebrating my subscapularis I want to see what this muscle is doing that contributes to my melange of overly strong internal rotators muscles. Anything beyond shoulder flossing you would recommend to open those up?

  2. [...] towards your ears and rolling forward toward your computer keyboard). He also had extremely tight internal rotators (the muscles that help you to hold your arms on your computer mouse and on your keyboard for hours [...]

  3. Orla says:

    I do a lot of swing and salsa dancing, which leaves my rotator cuff vulnerable when I’m with a poor partner/leader. I am going to look into doing some more proactive work with my subscapularis to prevent some of these injuries. Thanks!

  4. Rachel says:

    I will admit that I was under appreciating the subscapularis. It is always the muscle forgotten when I would think about the rotator cuff. Thanks to your acronym SITS that won’t happen anymore! Also I think it is so amazing that the subscapularis helps prevent the shoulder from dislocating and in everyday movements like giving a hug :)

  5. Nicolette says:

    Thanks Elissa for posting this!

    I now have a crystal clear picture of what the subscapularis does. Since it is tough to palpate and locate as you mentioned; it is often forgotten. Your examples of everyday use are great and are motivation for awakening this great muscle.

  6. Katie Fornika says:

    Wow, I just had a lightbulb moment reading your blog. I have a shoulder that dislocates quite easily (I used to do it to both shoulders as a party trick when I was a kid) and I have been so focused on overused supraspinatus and underused infraspinatus that I had forgotten about subscapularis’s role in the matter. I am so glad that I read this, thank you! I can’t wait to excavate with a therapy ball to see how the tissues are feeling too.

  7. Diane M says:

    Great article shedding light on a little known issue! While I was already aware of the anatomy of rotator cuff muscles, only recently in a YTU class, did i discover that the discomfort in my R shoulder seems to be a compensation pattern. Apparently I have limited shoulder external rotation, compensate with retraction; creating a cascade of dysfunction. Bottom line is that I now to realize that tightness of my subscapularis is definitely involved in the root cause. It is critical that I use my YTU Therapy balls and do some dynamic shoulder movements to balance the tissue tension and strength for a healthier shoulder rotation, creating safer stabilization and performance. Thanks!

  8. Giancarla says:

    I am so into the Subscapularis right now. Just like Elissa said, it is quite the forgotten Rotator Cuff muscles, not to mention Tadasana muscle. I have just begun to understand this muscle and I had no idea that this muscle was keeping me from externally rotating in my Glenohumeral joint and allowing for more ease in standing erect. When I was a kid I really looked up to ballerinas and the broadness of their Clavical as the skin swam across the surface of their chest for days…unfortunately I was not aware of the importance of releasing the tension in my subscapularis which resulted in a noticeable shortening in the front of my body and a caving in of shoulders towards my anterior body.

  9. Jimmy says:

    I agree with you Yelimar! I didn’t really understand the role Subscap played being part of the rotator cuff until reading both of these articles. Thanks for the write up Elissa, I’m go look for that work out post now, that you spoke about. Again well written, solid content, and easy to follow-stoked I clicked on your name.

  10. Yelimar says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I had no idea this was the muscle that kept the shoulder from dislocating. When a shoulder does dislocate, is it due to too much laxity in the subscapularis? I am in the YTU and I feel I have a better grasp of this muscle now thanks to this article. You made it easy to read and understand.

  11. Terry Littlefield says:

    Great article! Such a powerful player in the RC muscles, thank you for giving it some recognition:)

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.

 

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