Stretching Series: Serratus Anterior

Serratus Anterior Photo Credit – Anatomography
Stretching the Serratus Anterior effectively can be a difficult task, especially if a client has limited mobility or pain in the shoulder. Many stretching tutorials will have the patient raise the arm over the head and lean laterally in order to lengthen the muscle. While this does partially stretch the muscle, it can be difficult for some to extend the arm over the head. Also, this motion does not stretch serratus anterior optimally. If we look at the action of the muscle, aka scapular protraction, a part of the movement we need to incorporate to gain the most lengthening is scapular retraction; not flexion of the shoulder. By doing retraction, we will greatly intensify the stretch and create much more mobility. 

The key when stretching the Serratus Anterior effectively is to use multiple movements to achieve optimal lengthening. First, we will use medial scapular translation in order to retract the scapula and move the insertion of the muscle. Then we will use the movement of the rib cage to move the origin of the muscle, optimizing the lengthening.

The Stretch

  • Start with our body standing at a slight angle away from a wall with the side being stretched nearest the wall. 
  • Place your same-sided foot in front of you and opposite foot behind for a strong stance. Place your palm as an anchor on the posterior of the ilium creating a wing shape with your arm.

 

  • Place your elbow against the wall and lean sideways toward the wall; allowing the elbow and your scapula to move as far behind your back and medially (toward the spine) as possible. Your scapula and arm are now anchored and should not move. 
  • Maintain the anchored scapula position with your arm, then rotate the torso away from the wall to increase the stretch.
  • Next, lean your torso laterally to move the ribs, and thus opening up the ribs for optimal lengthening.
  • Last but not least, take a deep breath to expand the rib cage and finish the stretch.

Note: If shoulder mobility is an issue, allow some time to relax during step 4 in order to get maximum scapular movement and a correct anchor point. This can also be a key part if no stretch is felt after completing all the steps. Allowing for proper medial translation of the scapula truly sets the stretch up to happen correctly.

Another Note: The amount of weight needed to push the arm and scapula medially is probably more than you think. Do not be afraid to lean your body weight against your arm to gain maximum retraction of the scapula.

Disclaimer: Those with shoulder injuries, such as dislocations and labrum tears, where stability is lacking should proceed with caution. 

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