The subscapularis is a relatively unknown muscle among many people, however not knowing of its existence is likely to become problematic for an individual (trust me I know!).
This is because the subscapularis is very prone to becoming tight and shortened.
When the subscapularis, which is situated near the shoulder blade, becomes chronically tight it can bring several negative ramifications such as impingement pain and pinching in front of the shoulder blade.
In addition, anyone who is looking to improve their posture will want to ensure that their subscapularis is properly stretched as it can also affect and worsen shoulder posture.
You can already see why keeping your subscapularis at a normal length is important and if you feel that your subscapularis is in need of a much-needed stretch, you’ll find this post helpful.
In this post, you’ll learn how to release the initial tightness using myofascial release, followed by some of the most effective subscapularis stretches.
What is the Subscapularis?
The subscapularis is one of the four muscles that make up the muscles of the rotator cuff with its main responsibility being to rotate the arm internally.
If you stand up with your arms by your side then bend it to 90 degrees out in front of you, and then rotate your arm and forearm inwards, this describes what internal rotation is.
The subscapularis muscle sits in a position on the underside of both shoulder blades close to the ribcage. The way it is positioned means that it is almost totally inaccessible to us, however, we can reach a small part of it.
Why Does the Subscapularis Get Tight?
People who work a 9-5 job where they spend most of their time sitting will be prone to developing tightness in the subscapularis.
This is because the arms tend to internally rotate when we are seated with our shoulders hunched over in front of a computer.
Rather than sitting up straight with our shoulders rolled back with a healthy balance between our arms being internally and externally rotated, we tend to position ourselves in the former.
Staying in a posture with our arms internally rotated for too long will cause the muscles to adapt to this new position.
In our case, this means the subscapularis will be positioned in a shortened position for too long. Over time this develops into chronic tightness in the subscapularis.
Symptoms and Problems of a Tight Subscapularis
A tightened and short subscapularis can pull the shoulder into unnatural positions leaving us prone to shoulder injuries as well as pain in the shoulder, particularly down the front.
Regarding posture, the tightness keeps our arms in an internally rotated position and we may develop the classic ‘gorilla arm’ look with our shoulders and arms pointed inwards.
Our shoulders may also begin to feel achy and may even affect our overhead shoulder and arm mobility.
With the right stretching techniques, we can begin to create length in the subscapularis restoring healthy shoulder posture.
How to Fix a Tight and Short Subscapularis
I have highlighted the importance of why you don’t want to have a tight subscapularis.
In this section, we’ll get down to business and begin to create length in your subscapularis. Ultimately, it comes down to a two-step process.
1. How to Release the Subscapularis
The first step is to target any trigger points and knots which are causing chronic tightness in the subscapularis.
If you have a tight subscapularis, this is not going to be a pleasant process! It can be a very painful trigger knot to release so you have to be brave and go all in.
It’s very difficult to explain exactly how to locate the subscapularis, but if you poke around the area underneath your armpit and a little bit towards your back, it should be around that area. Once you feel a tender spot, that’s likely to be it!
The basic premise is to poke around and massage the subscapularis whilst waving the arm above the subscapularis to help release the muscle and tendon.
If you feel a tender spot you can also hold onto it for at least 30 seconds until the pain subsides. Repeat on the other subscapularis.
Again, this will prove to be extremely uncomfortable to do for some people.
However, as you begin to massage the area more frequently you should eventually get past the initial discomfort and be able to massage around the area without feeling any pain.
2. How to Stretch the Subscapularis
Once the trigger points in the subscapularis have been released, you can now move into performing stretches to lengthen it.
To stretch the subscapularis effectively you will need to move your arm in the opposite motion to which the tightness is holding it in.
In our case, this is moving our arms from an internally rotated position to an externally rotated position, then applying sufficient pressure to stretch the subscapularis.
In this section, we’ll look at some of the best subscapularis stretches.
– Subscapularis Stretch 1
The first stretch will require a stick of some kind. To do this stretch, hold the stick with one hand and rest it along the upper arm of the side you want to stretch.
Using the other arm grab the stick down low, then pull it away from your body.
Your other arm should begin to be forced into an externally rotated position. When performing this stretch make sure to keep the shoulder blade on the side you want to stretch plugged into the socket.
With good posture, you can apply more pressure with the lower arm to feel a greater stretch. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
For a full illustration of how to perform this stretch, watch the video above.
– Subscapularis Stretch 2
The second stretch requires a doorway or a protruding wall or pillar of some kind.
Place one arm up at a 45-degree angle and rest it on the wall with your body in the doorway.
Once in this position push your chest forward until you feel a stretch around the area in which your subscapularis is situated. Once you’ve located the correct stretch, hold it and breathe.
Change Your Habits to See Best Results
The first time you do this routine you should feel some relief. You may also find that your arms may even sit more naturally in an externally rotated position.
In most cases you shouldn’t have to repeatedly use the release techniques, however, you may want to start doing the stretches daily until the muscle begins to lengthen out.
Keep in mind, that if you constantly keep your arms in an internally rotated position throughout the day, you will inhibit the progress you make with stretching out the subscapularis.
If you sit at a desk all day with your arms internally rotated, be conscious about standing up and stretching out the subscapularis every now and again so that the muscle isn’t in a shortened position for long periods of the day.
Be sure to adopt better posture habits and you’ll see greater success in having a healthy subscapularis muscle.
You’ll also want to check that you do not have any other postural dysfunctions that may be present along with a tight subscapularis such as rounded shoulders which is part of a postural problem known as upper crossed syndrome.