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The Hug Muscle – Why Your Serratus Anterior Might Hold the Key to Aching Shoulders and Neck…

When it comes to muscles, most of us are happy with ‘quads’ ‘hamstrings’, ‘abs’ and ‘biceps’ but when it starts getting into the more complex stuff, we are left scratching our heads a little. But to understand how our bodies work gives us a great advantage.  Realising which muscles are drivers for which movements or how make particular muscles stronger can alleviate things like back pain is a game changer.

So maybe we don’t need to learn all 640 muscles in the human body, but we certainly can up our knowledge when it comes to the lesser known muscles, to give us the advantage on self care.

So let’s look at the Serratus Anterior. Sounds a little bit intense right? But actually this muscles is pretty fascinating – and you’ll know about it if yours is weak! Often overlooked, the Serratus Anterior is one of the key supporting muscles for mobility in shoulder movement, as well as helping you to breathe! Let’s explore further…

Where is it?

The serratus anterior begins around the 8th or 9th ribs on each side of your torso just underneath your armpits, running around the back of the shoulder blades. It’s got a few segments and actually looks a little like a cockerels comb on its side!

What Does it Do?

The serratus anterior serves us in several ways. Firstly, it works with other muscles to move the shoulder blades away from each other – think hugging motion. It is also connected with fascia (connective tissue) to the shoulder blades and rib cage, holding them together. When we hold positions like plank pose, the serratus anterior goes into action.

The other key job of these clever little muscles is giving us upward shoulder rotation – that is every time you lift your arms over your head.

Problems with the serratus anterior often occur when we drop our heads to look down (at phones and such), meaning our  backs are rounded and the serratus anterior is constantly activated. This invariably leads to chronic shortening of the muscle fibres, loosing their elasticity and becoming weaker.

How Do I know if My Serratus Anterior Need Work?

As with every weak muscle group, others have to take on the load, so we can end up with weak or inflamed rotator cuffs in our shoulders, and an aching neck. Commonly, the big muscles on the backs of the shoulders (the trapezius) start to get tight and sore too, which leads a lot of people to start believing they just need to stretch out and massage these muscles, in fact making the symptoms worse.

Obviously imbalances in our muscles eventually lead to injury and postural problems. Standing upright needs our rib cage to be lifted to a degree, which in turn support the inflation of our lungs. So weak serratus anteriors can even affect your breath!

Other than the problems mentioned above, have a look at the way you stand upright… Do you naturally hunch and round your shoulders and notice that the collarbones are close together? Maybe you can see your head juts forward. Ideally you want your shoulder blades closer together, enabling you to flatten your upper back and broaden your chest more.

Perhaps you struggle with lifting your arms overhead? Or that space between your shoulder blades is frequently tender.

If either is true, you could find that paying some attention to your serratus anterior muscles provides the antidote to your problems.

Visit a physiotherapist if you’re having problems, or why not look up some exercises specifically designed to strengthen and engage your serratus anterior. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, it becomes easier to work on. A good test on how to find your serratus anterior is to give yourself a big hug and feel for the muscles under your armpits.

Alternatively, try a vinyasa flow yoga class at the Mary Ann Weeks Aveda Guildford Studio – plenty of planks and chaturangas (low planks) to get you stronger over all.


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