Muscle Spotlight: Serratus Anterior, Spread your wings…

I remember when we learned about the Serratus Anterior muscle in my Kinesiology class when I was attending East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, OR. I was struck by the grace and beauty of this wing-like muscle that wraps so lovingly around our ribcage. As it turns out, Serratus Anterior has many important jobs.serratus_anterior1310237542939

It originates on the surfaces of the upper 8 (or 9) ribs, travels between the ribcage and the shoulder blade, and inserts onto the medial border of the anterior side of the scapula. It’s often called the “boxer’s muscle”, as it is largely responsible for the protraction (or pulling forward) of the scapula, such as when one throws a punch. It is also an important stabilizer for the scapula, and assists in respiration. Place your hands on your ribcage, just beneath the armpits – take a deep, deep inhalation – try to notice the fan-like muscles on either side expand and contract with each breath, helping your lungs to take in more life-giving oxygen.

But when your Serratus Anterior muscles are weak, problems can radiate throughout your body. Under-developed SA’s can contribute to neck issues, rotator cuff problems, poor circulation of both blood and lymph (and poor lymphatic return through the lymph ducts in the armpit may contribute to the build up of toxins in breast tissue and lymph nodes in that area).

As an important scapular stabilizer, SA is very important in many yoga poses, especially for inversions and arm-balancing poses (such as downward dog, handstands, crow pose, etc.). These poses are a great way to get in touch with and strengthen this muscle. If you aren’t a yogi, weighted punches can help tone SA as well.

As for stretching, the easiest stretch for SA is the Crescent Side Bend: To achieve this pose, stand straight and tall and lift your arms toward the ceiling, placing palms together if you can. Slide your scapula down your back, taking your shoulder blades away from your ears. Slide your hips toward the left as you curl your torso to the right, creating a crescent moon, or “C” shape, with your body. Hold the stretch for about 20-30 seconds, breathing deeply and evenly, then repeat on the opposite side. Take care to not push your stretch too far – you should feel a fascial pull on the side being stretched, but never pain. Over-stretching can cause injury to both muscles and connective tissue.

But I think that the absolute best way to keep your Serratus happy is to bring your attention and intention to this little-known, beautiful muscle. Keep your body happy, keep your wings strong, and spread them wide and free!

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