Scapular Winging: How To Fix Unstable Shoulder Blades?

Do you feel discomfort or instability in your shoulders and around scapulas? Maybe you even feel pain? But one thing that you clearly can notice is that your scapula, better known as shoulder blades, are sticking out from your back. If they are not close to your back and are sticking out, especially when performing certain motions, than you may have condition called scapular winging or winged scapula. But what actually is scapular winging and how can you fix it? You came to the right place. This article will provide you with all necessary information about scapular winging and unstable shoulder blades.

What Is Scapular Winging?

What in the world is scapular winging? That’s the name that we give when your shoulder blades start to look like wings, meaning they stick out from the back and ribs. You see normally your shoulder blade is held right tight against your ribcage. However in some instances of muscle weakness or muscle imbalance your shoulder blade isn’t held tight to your rib cage. This leads to the inside border, inside part, of your shoulder blade come up that it gives the appearance of wings in the back. 

Now in and of itself that’s not necessarily harmful or painful but it can alter shoulder mechanics how your shoulder moves and eventually lead to pain. So it’s certainly something that we want to be aware of. This is corrected by strengthening the weak muscles or the muscles that aren’t firing correctly. Specifically we’re going to look at the serratus anterior, the lower trapezius muscles, levator scapula and romboids. 

Assessment & Causes Of Scapular Winging

Before I dive into different types of exercises on how to stretch and strengthen different muscles around your shoulder blade, I want to talk a bit about assessment. Performing exercises that will soon be provided is great but depending on your symptoms you should always get assesed.

Now why do I put so much emphasis on assessment? By assessment meaning letting your doctor or physical therapist look into your condition. Well mostly because we are all different and have different bodies. Your symptoms may differ and the way you developed winged scapula as well. For some of you scapular winging may be more painful than for others and you need to know exact reasoning for that.

By palpation, strength tests and specific movement patterns your doctor or physical therapist can determin the cause of your scapular winging. The causes for winged scapula can be differ. In most cases muscle weakness and imbalances lead to development of scapular winging. These imbalances often occur because of now using certain muscles enough or performing specific repetitive motions in prolonged periods. Weakness in muscles can be caused by muscle damage, affected nerves or tightness in surrounding muscles. 

Therefore getting assessed will provide you with exact information about your condition and set up individualized rehabilitation plan just for you. 

How To Fix Your Unstable Shoulder Blades?

So really what you want to do is get all those muscles, the main muscles around the scapula, stretched out and strengthened. Because remember stretching something out doesn’t mean making it weak, it means it makes it function properly. So sometimes people think you shouldn’t stretch, but most of you actually should as that helps get that muscle moving how it’s supposed to again. 

Mobility Exercises

Rhomboid Stretch

The first one is going to be a rhomboid stretch. The rhomboids are muscles on inside of the spine, so it pulls those scapula or the shoulder blades in towards the spine. A great way to stretch romboids out is to get into a long sit position. You don’t have to if this is a hard position

to get in to, you can just sit in a chair or the edge of your bed and do it, but this will get you a little bit better stretch.  You’re going to take your hands out in front of you, clasp them together, and then punch forward. Tuck in your chin and arch your back out behind you. Imagine reaching infront with your arms while rounding and pushing away your thoracic spine. so since this is a Hold it for a full 30 seconds, three times. 

Levator Scapulae Stretch

The next one is going to be the levator scapulae stretch, or levator scapulae. As the name says levator scapulae elevates the scapula, elevates that shoulder blade.  Often tight levator scapulae causes improper moving patterns of shoulder blade, leading to muscles imbalances and shoulder winging. Imagine not being able to elevate your scapula properly or your scapula being stuck in elevated position due to tightness.  So how do we stretch levator scapulae? Well it is quite simple. 

You perform this stretch by sitting on a chair or bench and lowering your chin toward one shoulder, say your left.You then assist your chin to come down with your left hand on top of your head while resisting with your right hand by grabbing the chair behind you. The right levator scapulae stretches as a result.

Active Floor Lat Stretch

Sink your hips back while kneeling, then rest your right forearm flat on the ground.

Stretch out your left arm and lean your weight onto it while extending your right arm. The side of your torso will feel stretched. Hold on to this position for a short while before going back to original position. Repeat ten times per side.

To get the most out of your stretch you can try rounding your lower back. As you stretch, rotate your ribs and chest upward to intensify the stretch.

Strength Training

Elbow Push With Elastic Band

Wrap the resistance band across your back. I carry out this activity while wearing a TheraBand. After wrapping the band around your elbow, follow its path down your forearm to your hand. Start by extending your elbow up toward the sky while concentrating on scapula protraction.

To increase the activation of the serratus anterior, elevate the shoulder to 120 degrees of shoulder flexion and 30 degrees of horizontal abduction.

Serratus Anterior Push Up

Start by getting into modified push up position with knees on the floor. Tuck your elbows and triceps inwards. By doing that our strong pectorial, chest, muscles will not take over. We want to target your weak serratus anterior.  Now push yourself from the floor, without bending your elbows. Only your shoulder blades should be working. You can imagine your scapula rounding up as you protract during pushing phase of the movement. On the way down your shoulder blades come together, they retract. Perform this exercise three times for ten repetitions.

Make this exercise tougher by going into push up position, meaning having your legs straight and only supporting yourself with hands and feet. If this is also easy for you try wrapping elastic band around your back and placing its ends under your hands. The extra resistance which elastic band provides will make this more challenging.

Wall slide

All you’re going to need is a clean towe. What I want you to do is pin the towel against the wall with your forearms. Now first step is  to activate the serratus anterior so pull your shoulder blades apart. You do that by pushing your elbows into the wall if you can envision that. So Ii want you to do is push with your elbows into the wall and then hold that contraction. While you are holding that contraction slowly raise you elbows up against the wall and then down again.  Do not let your shoulder blades contract, meaning come together. 

Make the exercise tougher by standing further away with your feet and performing the same motion. You can even place a small elastic band between your wrists or elbow while performing the same motion, not letting them fall inwards.

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