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Home > Stretches > Serratus Stretch

Serratus Stretch

Equipment

  1. A stability ball (aka physio ball, aka swiss ball)

Setup

  1. Lie face-up on a stability ball with your upper back resting on the ball, feet planted a bit wider than shoulder width apart.
  2. Completely relax your abdominal muscles such that your chest is allowed to puff out (i.e., allow your back to follow the contour of the ball by totally relaxing).

Execution

  1. Reach your arms up over your head (given that your torso is horizontal because you’re lying on a ball, what I mean is reach your arms parallel to your torso) such that your biceps are next to your ears, fingers and elbows straight.
  2. Slowly and gently wave your arms back and forth between being totally overhead and being spread out at your sides, as though you were making a snow angel.
  3. Do this serratus stretch for 30 seconds to 120 seconds at a time, as desired.  Repeat no more than 3 times per day.

serratus stretchserratus stretch

serratus stretch

Tips

  1. It’s super-important that you relax your torso during this serratus stretch or you won’t get the full benefit.
  2. Experiment with this serratus stretch by varying how high your torso is on the ball.  You can conduct this serratus stretch with the apex of the ball’s curvature in your upper back, your middle back, or anywhere in between.

serratus anterior

Background

The serratus anterior (the “serratus”) is a little-known but highly important muscle.

Where is the serratus muscle?

The serratus muscle is in your armpit.  If you’ve ever felt pain deep in your armpit, you know where the serratus muscle is.  Specifically, the serratus muscle is composed of several finger-like bands of muscle that radiate from the crux of your armpit and attach to your ribs in the front of your torso.  The serratus muscle is situated on top of your rib cage (i.e., the serratus is closer to the skin than the ribs).

What does the serratus muscle do anyway?

The serratus muscle is capable of three different movements.  The serratus muscle moves the shoulder forward, as when punching (scapular abduction).  This is the serratus muscle’s primary role.  The serratus is also capable of upwardly rotating the shoulder, as when reaching overheard with your arms.  To a much lesser extent, the serratus assists in the elevation of the shoulder blade, as when shrugging your shoulders.  The serratus muscle, even at rest, together with the rhomboids, holds the shoulder blade against the thoracic wall. In addition, the serratus assists in heavy breathing, as when performing strenuous exercise. Some postulate that so-called "chest breathers," those who habitually breath shallowly rather than diaphramatically, constantly and needlessly tax their serratus muscle and, as a result, develop dysfunction in their serratus.

What happens when the serratus muscle is weak and/or lax?

A condition known as scapular winging.  This is more common in women than men.  It’s an easy condition to diagnose, just look at someone’s upper back.  If their shoulder blades are poking out then they have winged scapulae.  You can read all about scapular winging on Wikipedia if you want; I’ve never suffered from it and thus don’t have much to add.

serratus

What happens when the serratus muscle is strong and/or tight?

There’s nothing wrong with having a strong serratus, but as with any muscle, the benefits of the serratus anterior’s strength must be viewed in light of the strength and laxity of the other muscles groups that work with the serratus to perform the various motions described above.  A common cause of shoulder impingement syndrome is weak rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles coupled with strong serratus, anterior deltoid, and pectoral muscles.  One of the benefits of this serratus stretch is that it also stretches other chest muscles, namely the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor (together, the “pecs”), and the intercostals (muscles between your ribs).
For the anatomy wonks among us, the serratus is innervated by the long thoracic nerve.

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Desk Jockey (describing one cause of serratus anterior tightness)
  2. Plank Exercise (exercises the serratus anterior muscle)
  3. Stability Ball Back Stretch (detailing another useful stretch on the stability ball)

References

  1. Davies, Amber, The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook 141-44 (2nd ed., 2004).
  2. Carolyn Kisner & Lynn Allen Colby,Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques 505, 543-45 (5th ed., 2007).

Related E-books

  1. Shoulder Pain No More
  2. Shoulder Injury Guide

Last Updated: 8/7/2011
Originally Posted: 8/7/2011