The subscapularis is a crucial part of the rotator cuff, responsible for providing stability to the shoulder joint and allowing smooth arm movement. Our modern lifestyle often involves prolonged sitting and poor posture, so our subscapularis can become tight as our arms are frequently held in an internally rotated position.
This tightness can lead to pain, discomfort, and reduced shoulder mobility, making it essential to address and alleviate the issue with targeted stretches and release techniques.
This article will discuss the subscapularis muscle, why it gets tight, and how to locate it. We’ll also provide effective release techniques and stretches to help alleviate tightness and improve shoulder function.
I. What is the Subscapularis?
The subscapularis is a large triangular muscle that lies deep in the shoulder, forming part of the rotator cuff. It plays a vital role in stabilizing the shoulder joint and allowing for smooth, pain-free movement.
The subscapularis is responsible for internal rotation of the arm and assisting in other shoulder movements.
II. Why Does the Subscapularis Get Tight?
Spending most of your day sitting at a desk can put your subscapularis muscle at risk of tightness. When you’re seated with your shoulders hunched over a computer, your arms tend to rotate inwards, causing an imbalance in your shoulder muscles.
Instead of maintaining proper posture with your shoulders back and a healthy balance between inward and outward rotation, you may slouch, letting your shoulders round forward. This position keeps your arms internally rotated for extended periods, causing your muscles to adapt and eventually leading to subscapularis tightness.
III. Symptoms of a Tight Subscapularis
A tight subscapularis can cause various symptoms that impact your shoulder and arm. As this muscle is responsible for internally rotating the arm, a shortened and tightened subscapularis can pull the shoulder into unnatural positions, potentially leading to shoulder injuries and discomfort, particularly at the front of the shoulder.
This pain can become more noticeable when you lift or reach overhead, as the tight muscle limits your shoulder joint’s range of motion. Over time, this can cause decreased mobility and overall function in your shoulder and arm.
Furthermore, a chronically tight subscapularis can impact your posture by keeping your arms internally rotated, resulting in a “gorilla arm” appearance. This not only affects your arms but can lead to upper crossed syndrome, a postural issue that impacts your entire body.
IV. How to Locate the Subscapularis
The subscapularis muscle can be tricky to locate due to its position on the inside of the shoulder blade. This means you can’t feel it directly on your back, but you can access the side of the muscle by lifting your arm and feeling the underside of your shoulder blade from just under the armpit. To make it easier, follow these steps:
- Stand or sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed.
- Lift the arm on the side where you want to locate the subscapularis and raise it to about shoulder height.
- With your opposite hand, reach under your armpit and feel the underside of your shoulder blade.
- Gently press your fingers into the area just beneath the shoulder blade, where you can feel the side of the subscapularis muscle.
Remember that it might be difficult to access the entire muscle, but by following these steps, you can get a sense of where the subscapularis is and how it feels when you apply pressure.
V. Release Techniques for the Subscapularis
To effectively release your subscapularis muscle, we’ll explore two different techniques: one using your fist and another using a massage ball.
A. Subscapularis fist release
- Sit on a chair, take the arm on the side of the subscapularis you want to release, and lift it to about shoulder height.
- Make a fist with your opposite hand and place it under your armpit, pressing it into the side of the subscapularis muscle.
- Rest your elbow on your thigh, and lean forward slightly to increase the pressure of your fist on the muscle.
- Gently massage the area by moving your fist in small circular motions, focusing on any tight spots you feel.
- As you massage, internally and externally rotate your arm to help you find and target tight areas within the muscle fibres.
B. Subscapularis massage ball release
- Place a massage ball on the floor.
- Lie down on your side with the ball under the subscapularis muscle you want to release.
- Adjust your body position to apply pressure on the muscle, and use your legs and free arm to control the pressure.
- Gently roll the ball around the area, focusing on any tight spots you feel.
- As you roll, internally and externally rotate your arm to help you find and target tight areas within the muscle fibres.
- Spend 1-2 minutes on each side or until you feel the muscle release and tension subside.
If you’re dealing with a tight subscapularis, it’s important to be aware that releasing it may not be a comfortable process. You may experience some discomfort as you work to release the tension in the muscle. However, with frequent massages, you should be able to ease past the initial pain and work more effectively in the area without experiencing any discomfort.
VI. Subscapularis Stretches
To effectively stretch the subscapularis, it’s important to move your arm in the opposite direction of the tightness-induced internal rotation.
This can be achieved by externally rotating your arm while gently stretching the muscle. Any arm movement that promotes external rotation can help stretch the subscapularis.
A. Stick stretch
Using a stick to stretch your subscapularis can effectively increase mobility and flexibility in your shoulders. Here’s how to do it:
- Hold a stick or broom with one hand, arm out to the side, elbow bent at 90 degrees.
- Flick your wrist backward, letting the stick drop and rest against the back of your arm.
- Reach across with your other hand to grab the bottom of the stick.
- Pull the stick away from your body, externally rotating the arm holding the stick while keeping the shoulder blade engaged.
- Hold for 30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your subscapularis muscle.
- Repeat on the other side.
B. Eagle pose stretch
While using a stick to stretch the subscapularis is the most effective option, there is still a way to stretch the subscapularis without a stick. Here is a stretch using an eagle pose that can help stretch the subscapularis:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides.
- Raise arms in front at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
- Cross right arm over left at elbows, bend arms so forearms are perpendicular to the floor.
- Bring palms together, fingers pointing upward.
- Exhale, pull the right elbow back and down, deepening the shoulder stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your subscapularis and other shoulder muscles.
- Release and repeat on the opposite side.
C. Corner wall stretch
You can perform this stretch for the subscapularis using a corner of a room or a doorway. It’s a great stretch to help lengthen the muscle and improve your range of motion. Here’s how to do it using a corner of a room:
- Stand facing a corner or doorway, feet hip-width apart.
- Place hands on the wall or doorframe, elbows bent at shoulder height.
- Step forward with one foot and lean into the corner or doorway, keeping elbows and forearms in place.
- Externally rotate your shoulder, feeling a stretch in your subscapularis muscle.
- Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Repeat on the other side if using a doorway.
If you prefer a doorway instead of a corner, simply stand in the doorway and follow the same steps with your arms outstretched and your palms on the doorframe.
Incorporating these stretches into your routine should provide relief and may even improve the natural positioning of your arms. It’s important to stretch daily until the muscle lengthens. Remember, maintaining poor posture habits, such as constantly holding your arms in an internally rotated position, can inhibit progress.
If you have any concerns or are unsure about anything, it’s always best to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Dedication to these exercises and good posture habits means you’ll be on your way to a healthy subscapularis and improved overall well-being.