Scapular Muscles

Scapular Muscles

John Miller Physiotherapist

Article by John Miller

Scapular Muscles

What is Scapular Stabilisation?


Scapular stabilisation is crucial for shoulder health and function. The scapular muscles play a key role in maintaining the stability and movement of the shoulder joint. This article aims to enlighten you about the importance of these scapular muscles, how to strengthen them, and the role of physiotherapy in maintaining shoulder health.

What are your Scapular Muscles?

The scapula, commonly known as the shoulder blade, serves as an attachment point for several muscles, which play crucial roles in the movement and stability of the shoulder. These muscles include:

  1. Trapezius: This large muscle extends from the neck and upper spine to the shoulder. It has three parts (upper, middle, and lower) that help in moving the scapula and supporting the arm.
  2. Levator Scapulae: As its name suggests, this muscle elevates the scapula. It originates in the cervical spine and attaches to the upper part of the scapula.
  3. Rhomboids (Major and Minor): Located between the spine and the scapula, these muscles retract the scapula, pulling it towards the spine.
  4. Serratus Anterior: This muscle fans out from the upper ribs to the underside of the scapula. It plays a key role in protracting and stabilising the scapula.
  5. Deltoid: This muscle caps the shoulder and is attached to the lateral aspect of the scapula. It is crucial for arm abduction.
  6. Supraspinatus: Part of the rotator cuff, it arises from the supraspinous fossa of the scapula and helps in lifting the arm.
  7. Infraspinatus: Another rotator cuff muscle, it originates in the infraspinous fossa of the scapula and aids in rotating the arm laterally.
  8. Teres Minor: Also part of the rotator cuff, this muscle extends from the lateral border of the scapula to the humerus and assists in rotating the arm.
  9. Teres Major: While not a part of the rotator cuff, it is located near the teres minor and helps in internal rotation and adduction of the arm.
  10. Subscapularis: This is the largest of the rotator cuff muscles, covering the anterior surface of the scapula and playing a role in rotating the arm medially.
  11. Pectoralis Minor: This muscle attaches to the coracoid process of the scapula and helps in stabilising the scapula.
  12. Omohyoid (Inferior Belly): Part of this muscle attaches to the superior border of the scapula, although it primarily functions in neck movements.
  13. Latissimus Dorsi: While most of this large muscle is attached to the spine and pelvis, a part of it extends to the scapula, playing a role in internal rotation, adduction, and extension of the shoulder.

These muscles work in coordination to facilitate a wide range of shoulder movements and contribute to the overall stability and function of the shoulder joint.

scapular muscles
Strong Scapular Muscles Provides Stability

The Role of Scapular Muscles

The scapula, or shoulder blade, works in tandem with the rotator cuff muscles to stabilise your shoulder joint during movement. The rotator cuff muscles originate from the scapula and attach to the humerus (upper arm bone). Without a stable scapula, you risk conditions like rotator cuff tendinopathy or impingement.

Recent research highlights the increasing prevalence of shoulder impingement, especially among athletes and individuals engaged in repetitive upper body activities, underscoring the importance of scapular muscle health.

Strengthening Your Scapular Muscles

To maintain optimal shoulder stability and prevent injuries, it’s essential to focus on strengthening specific scapular muscles. The trapezius, with its upper, middle, and lower fibres, and the serratus anterior are particularly important. These muscles, often weakened due to lifestyle factors or improper training, play a crucial role in shoulder mechanics.

Importance of Targeted Exercises

Scapular stabilisation exercises are specifically designed to target these muscle groups. These exercises not only enhance shoulder function but also significantly reduce the risk of common shoulder problems.

Addressing Other Scapular Muscles

While the rhomboids and levator scapulae are also critical scapular muscles, the trapezius and serratus anterior are more prone to weakness and injury. Therefore, our emphasis is on strengthening these muscles, which are pivotal in maintaining scapular stability.

A Holistic Approach

Incorporating exercises that engage the entire scapular region, including the rhomboids and levator scapulae, provides a comprehensive approach to shoulder health. This holistic strategy ensures all supporting muscles work synergistically, offering better protection against injury and enhancing overall shoulder function.

Enhancing Scapular Posture Correction

Beyond Military Posture: Comprehensive Scapular Alignment

While adopting a ‘military posture’—shoulders back, chest out—is fundamental for correct scapular positioning, it’s just the beginning. This posture aids in reducing the risk of shoulder impingement, bursitis, and rotator cuff tears. To further enhance scapular stability, engage your mid and lower trapezius muscles. These muscles are key for retracting the shoulder and pulling the scapula downwards, actions that are critical in preventing rotator cuff issues.

The Dynamic Range of Scapular Motion

It’s important to recognise that the scapula has a broad range of motion, requiring control throughout its entire operational span. For instance, during arm elevation, the scapula contributes approximately 60 degrees of the total 180-degree movement necessary for full elevation. Therefore, focusing solely on strengthening in a ‘military posture’ overlooks the crucial aspect of controlling the scapula in functional zones above shoulder height. Weakness in this zone would place you at injury risk when lifting overhead and throwing for example.

Addressing Full Range Scapular Control

To achieve comprehensive scapular control, exercises should encompass movements that extend beyond the basic posture. This includes exercises that involve elevation, rotation, and protraction of the scapula. By training the scapula to operate effectively throughout its entire range, you can ensure better shoulder mechanics and further reduce the risk of injury.

The Importance of Balanced Scapular Training

Balanced scapular training is key. It involves not only strengthening the stabilising muscles but also ensuring flexibility and control across the scapula’s full range of motion. Such a balanced approach leads to a well-aligned scapula, crucial for optimal shoulder function and health.

The Importance of Scapulo-Humeral Rhythm

Your physiotherapist plays a vital role in assessing and correcting your scapulo-humeral rhythm, a key component of shoulder function. Poor scapulo-humeral rhythm is a major cause of rotator cuff impingement. Physiotherapists can guide you through exercises tailored to your specific needs, contributing significantly to rehabilitation success.

Can a Posture Brace Help?

In some cases, a posture brace can be beneficial for scapular posture training below 90-degrees shoulder elevation. It provides passive support, helping to maintain correct shoulder and scapular alignment. However, it’s essential to consult with a physiotherapist to determine if a brace is suitable for your condition.


Scapular stabilisation is a cornerstone of shoulder health. Understanding and working on the strength and stability of the scapular muscles can significantly improve shoulder function and prevent common injuries. Incorporating appropriate exercises into your routine, under the guidance of a physiotherapist, is key to achieving and maintaining optimal shoulder health.

What to Do? Seeking Professional Advice

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or discomfort, or if you’re keen on improving your shoulder stability and function, consulting a shoulder physiotherapist is a wise decision. They can provide tailored advice and exercise regimes suited to your specific needs. Remember, proactive measures and professional guidance are your best allies in maintaining shoulder health.

For more information and resources on scapular stabilisation and shoulder health, visit PhysioWorks, a comprehensive source for physiotherapy insights and advice.

John Miller Physiotherapist

Article by John Miller

What are the Common Causes of Shoulder Pain?

Understanding the Causes of Shoulder Pain: A Guide for the General Public

Shoulder pain is a common issue that can stem from various injuries and conditions. Identifying the cause of your shoulder pain is essential for effective treatment and recovery. This article explains the most common causes of shoulder pain and offers practical advice on what to do next.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?
What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilise the shoulder. Injuries here are a frequent cause of shoulder pain. Common conditions include:

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement occurs when shoulder tendons are pinched during arm movements, causing pain and limited mobility. Conditions related to impingement include:

  • Shoulder Impingement: A condition where shoulder tendons are pinched during arm movements, causing pain and limited mobility.
  • Shoulder Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac in the shoulder, causing pain and discomfort.
  • Swimmer’s Shoulder: An overuse injury common in swimmers, causing shoulder pain and impingement symptoms.

Shoulder Stiffness

Stiffness in the shoulder can develop gradually and lead to significant discomfort. Key conditions include:

Shoulder Instability

Instability in the shoulder can lead to recurrent issues. Common causes are:

Acromioclavicular Joint

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint can be damaged, often in athletes or after falls. Conditions include:

  • AC Joint Injury: Involves damage to the acromioclavicular joint, common in athletes and after falls.

Bone Conditions

Bone-related issues can also cause shoulder pain. These include:

Post-Operative Physiotherapy

Recovery from shoulder surgery often requires tailored exercises and therapies. Important procedures include:

  • Subacromial Decompression: A surgical procedure to alleviate shoulder impingement symptoms.
  • Shoulder Arthroscopy: Minimally invasive surgery for various shoulder conditions.
  • Acromioplasty: Surgery to reshape the acromion and relieve impingement.
  • Rotator Cuff Repair: Surgical repair of a torn rotator cuff.
  • SLAP Repair: Surgery to fix a specific type of labrum tear in the shoulder.
  • Biceps Tenodesis: Surgical procedure to reattach the biceps tendon.
  • Biceps Tenotomy: Involves cutting the biceps tendon to relieve pain.
  • Total Shoulder Replacement: Replacement of the shoulder joint with artificial components.

Post-Operative Shoulder Rehabilitation: Essential for recovery, involving tailored exercises and therapies to regain strength and mobility after shoulder surgery.

Muscle Conditions

Muscle-related issues causing shoulder pain include:

Neck Arm Syndromes

Pain in the shoulder can originate from other areas, such as the neck. Conditions include:

  • Neck Arm Pain: Pain that originates in the neck and travels down to the arm and shoulder.
  • Cervical Radiculopathy: Occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated, leading to shoulder pain.
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A condition where nerves or blood vessels between the collarbone and first rib are compressed, causing pain in the shoulder area.

Systemic Conditions

Chronic conditions can also affect the shoulders. These include:

  • Fibromyalgia: A chronic condition characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain, including in the shoulder.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune disorder that can cause joint pain and damage throughout the body, including the shoulders.

What to Do Next?

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, it is essential to seek professional advice from a physiotherapist. They can assess your condition and develop a personalised treatment plan to address your specific needs.


Shoulder pain can significantly impact your daily life, but understanding its causes is the first step towards effective treatment. By recognising the signs and symptoms of different conditions, you can take the appropriate actions to manage your pain and improve your quality of life.

Shoulder Products & FAQs

Explore our range of shoulder products and find answers to frequently asked questions about shoulder pain and treatment options.

Causes of Shoulder Pain FAQs

1. What are the common causes of shoulder pain?

Common causes include rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingement, adhesive capsulitis, shoulder instability, AC joint injuries, arthritis, fractures, and muscle strains.

2. How can a physiotherapist help with shoulder pain?

A physiotherapist can assess your condition, provide tailored exercises, and offer treatments to reduce pain and improve mobility.

3. What is rotator cuff tendinopathy?

Rotator cuff tendinopathy is inflammation or damage to the rotator cuff tendons, leading to pain and reduced mobility.

4. How is shoulder impingement treated?

Treatment often includes physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and in some cases, surgery to relieve pressure on the tendons.

5. What should I do if I have a frozen shoulder?

Consult a physiotherapist for a tailored exercise program to improve mobility and reduce pain.

6. Can shoulder pain be related to neck problems?

Yes, conditions like cervical radiculopathy can cause shoulder pain due to nerve compression in the neck.

Related Articles

  1. Rotator Cuff Injuries: Discover causes and treatments for rotator cuff injuries.
  2. Shoulder Impingement: Learn how to manage and treat shoulder impingement.
  3. Frozen Shoulder: Understand the symptoms and treatments for adhesive capsulitis.
  4. Shoulder Dislocation: Find out how to manage shoulder dislocations.
  5. AC Joint Injury: Explore treatment options for AC joint injuries.
  6. Shoulder Arthritis: Learn about managing pain and stiffness from arthritis.
  7. Post-Operative Shoulder Rehabilitation: Understand the recovery process after shoulder surgery.
  8. Muscle Strain Treatments: Discover effective ways to treat muscle strains.
  9. Cervical Radiculopathy: Learn how neck issues can cause shoulder pain.
  10. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Find out about symptoms and treatments for this condition.

Shoulder Pain FAQs

Your Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Managing Shoulder Injuries

Welcome to the "Shoulder Pain FAQs" page, your go-to resource for understanding various aspects of shoulder pain, injuries, and how to manage them effectively. The shoulder is a complex joint that allows for a wide range of movements, but it is also susceptible to various injuries and conditions that can cause discomfort and limitations in daily activities.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the most common shoulder injuries, their causes, and how to identify and treat them. We'll also address frequently asked questions about specific shoulder conditions, providing you with valuable insights into your shoulder health.

shoulder pain guide
Shoulder Pain Guide

When Should You Worry About Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain can be caused by numerous factors, ranging from minor strains to more severe injuries. Knowing when to seek medical attention is crucial to prevent further damage and facilitate timely recovery.

Common Shoulder Injuries

We'll swing into the most prevalent shoulder injuries, shedding light on their causes, symptoms, and appropriate treatment options.

More info: Common Shoulder Injuries

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Understanding the root causes of shoulder pain is fundamental to addressing the issue effectively. We'll explore the various factors that can lead to shoulder discomfort and how to mitigate them.

More info: What Causes Shoulder Pain?

What is Your Scapulohumeral Rhythm?

The scapulohumeral rhythm plays a vital role in shoulder function and movement. We'll explain what it is and its significance in maintaining a healthy shoulder.

More info: What is Your Scapulohumeral Rhythm?

Rotator Cuff: An In-Depth Analysis

The rotator cuff is a critical group of muscles and tendons in the shoulder. We'll dive into its anatomy, functions, and common problems associated with it.

More info: Rotator Cuff: An In-Depth Analysis

How Can You Tell If You Have Torn Your Rotator Cuff?

Identifying a torn rotator cuff can be challenging, but we'll provide you with essential signs to look out for and when to seek professional evaluation.

More info: How Can You Tell If You Have Torn Your Rotator Cuff?

Can You Diagnose A Torn Rotator Cuff Without An MRI?

Find out about diagnostic methods for a torn rotator cuff, including whether an MRI is always necessary for accurate diagnosis.

More info: Can You Diagnose A Torn Rotator Cuff Without An MRI?

Can You Lift Your Arm With A Rotator Cuff Tear?

Discover the limitations and challenges you may face if you have a torn rotator cuff and how to manage arm movement during the healing process.

More info: Can You Lift Your Arm With A Rotator Cuff Tear?

Will Your Shoulder Blade Hurt With A Torn Rotator Cuff?

Learn about the possible relationship between a torn rotator cuff and shoulder blade pain, and what it indicates about your shoulder health.

More info: Will Your Shoulder Blade Hurt With A Torn Rotator Cuff?

Will A Cortisone Injection Help A Torn Rotator Cuff?

Cortisone injections are sometimes used for shoulder pain, but their effectiveness in treating a torn rotator cuff is a point of interest we'll explore.

More info: Will A Cortisone Injection Help A Torn Rotator Cuff?

How Can You Make Your Rotator Cuff Heal Faster?

We'll provide practical tips and strategies to aid in the healing process of a torn rotator cuff and restore shoulder function more rapidly.

More info: How Can You Make Your Rotator Cuff Heal Faster?

Shoulder Bursitis: Understanding the Condition

What is shoulder bursitis, and how does it differ from other shoulder injuries? Get insights into this inflammatory condition and how to manage it.

More info: Shoulder Bursitis: Understanding the Condition

Shoulder Impingement: Causes and Solutions

Understand the concept of the shoulder impingement zone and the factors contributing to rotator cuff impingement and bursitis.

More info: Shoulder Impingement: Causes and Solutions

Frozen Shoulder: Overcoming the Stiffness

Discover how to unfreeze a frozen shoulder and regain a full range of motion through effective therapeutic approaches.

More info: Frozen Shoulder: Overcoming the Stiffness

Shoulder Dislocation/Instability: Seeking Stability

Explore the causes of shoulder dislocation and instability, and the fastest ways to promote healing and prevent future occurrences.

More info: Shoulder Dislocation/Instability: Seeking Stability

Can You Fix Shoulder Instability?

Find out about treatment options to address shoulder instability and regain stability in the joint.

More info: Can You Fix Shoulder Instability?

AC Joint: Identifying and Managing Injuries

Learn how to recognise an injured AC joint and what steps to take for proper care and recovery.

More info: AC Joint: Identifying and Managing Injuries

Swimmers Shoulder: Causes and Remedies

If you're a swimmer or engage in repetitive overhead activities, understanding the causes of swimmer's shoulder and how to prevent it is essential.

More info: Swimmers Shoulder: Causes and Remedies

We hope this comprehensive guide will prove invaluable in your journey to understand and manage shoulder pain and injuries. However, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice and treatment based on your specific condition. Let's dive into the world of shoulder health together!

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