If you have wings, you can fly high in the sky. However, if you have winged scapulars, the results are drastically different. Nobody wants their scapulars to be winged as it can lead to many unwanted symptoms such as discomfort or pain.
In my case, having a winged scapula meant that my shoulder movement was inhibited. If I tried to raise my arms up in the air, my left arm managed to brush my left ear, however my right arm was not able to go as close to my right ear, as it was on the left. I’d let this problem go for the most part but decided that it was time to do some research into the problem as my shoulder blade area became more and more uncomfortable. It was then that I landed on the idea of a winged scapula.
It is in this post, that I lay out all of the best research I have found on the topic, including some of the best exercises to fix your winged scapula.
What Is a Winged Scapula?
A winged scapula is when you notice that a shoulder blade sticks out from a person back more than it should. In some cases you may even see the shoulder blade stick out of a persons shirt. A normal shoulder blade, should be pushed up right against the back of the ribcage, however with a winged scapula, it has become loosened from the rib cage.
So what is the cause of this?
The serratus anterior muscle is usually the problem. Specifically, it has become very weak. The serratus anterior starts at the side of the rib cage below the chest and goes round the back below the scapula. If the muscle is working well, it attaches onto the scapula and pull it tight to the ribs.
If the muscle is weak, the scapula will float off the rib cage leaving little control over the scapula and shoulder, and most noticeably a protruding shoulder blade. Another interrelated cause of a winged scapula is damage to the Long Thoracic Nerve (e.g. holding a bag over one shoulder for too long), which travels from the top of the spine downwards to the side of the chest.
For a good explanation of a winged scapula, I recommend watching the video below.
People who have an anterior pelvic tilt can also be susceptible to developing a winged scapula because the serratus anterior muscles are usually very relaxed in this type of posture.
Exercises to Try
If you have a winged scapula all is not lost as you can learn to activate and strengthen the serratus anterior muscle again. I have included a list of the 5 best exercises that I have tried and get the most relief from.
Each exercise is taken from a video that talks about how to fix scapula winging. I therefore highly recommend watching the whole video not to only see how the exercise is performed, but to gain as much knowledge as you can about scapula winging. Furthermore, in each video, you will find more exercises that may be more suitable for you, than the ones listed below.
1. Scapular pushup
It seems logical for us to think that the serratus anterior muscle is responsible for pulling our shoulder blade back in place, however the opposite is true. It is responsible for protracting our shoulder blade. A great exercise is to do a scapular pushup as shown in the video above.
Note that this exercise can also be done against a wall.
2. Banded shoulder protraction
This exercise involves a similar motion to the scapula pushup except a band is used. This option is great if you do not want to put pressure onto your hands like the scapula pushup.
To do this exercise:
- Wrap a band around you so it goes around your back
- Using both arms, slowly retract and protract your shoulder blades, pushing the band away from you.
- Keep doing this back and forth.
Watch the video below to see this exercise in motion, as well as learning more about fixing a winged scapula.
3. wall slides
This exercise is great for anyone who doesn’t want to get onto the floor, but would prefer to use a wall instead.
- Stand in a position with your arms against the wall, and push your shoulder blades back outwards (shoulder blades protracted)
- Slide your arms up the wall and keep your back pushed backwards
- Once at the top, slide back holding the position of your shoulders and back
- It is important to not let your back sink in during this exercise
Watch the video below to learn how to do a wall slide, as well as get some further exercise ideas.
4. Lying Dumbbell Shoulder Protraction
To do this exercise you will need a dumbbell or small weight.
- Lie down on your back
- With a small weight in one hand, raise it out in front of you
- Next push it toward the ceiling only using the shoulder joint
- Slowly lift and lower
The video below shows this exercise in motion and also some others that you can try.
5. Dumbell Pull-Over
You may have come across this exercise already as it’s the well known dumbbell pullover.
- Lie on your back holding a dumbbell with both hands.
- Raise the dumbell above your chest
- Slowly lower the dumbell so that it sits above your head
- Be very careful not to smash your own face with this one!
To see how to do this exercise watch the video below.
Correct your pushup form
If you’re already doing lots of pushups but still have a winged scapula, it could be that you aren’t protracting your shoulders at the top of your pushup. If this is the case then you may not need to do all the listed exercises, but rather, just correct your pushup form.
So there you have it, some exercises that should help strengthen the serratus anterior. If you can strengthen this muscle, as well as learn how to use it in everyday motion, the muscle will pull the scapula back up tight against the rib, helping you gain greater shoulder mobility and comfort.
I hope this post has been useful. Please note that I am not a fitness expert but someone who is also looking to fix a winged scapula. I’ll keep this post updated as I look to correct it. Good luck with fixing your own winged scapula!