Are you looking to improve your shoulder mobility and strength? Strengthening the muscles in your shoulders can help reduce pain, keep your arms moving freely and make everyday tasks easier. To get the most out of your shoulder exercises, it’s important to target as many of the major muscles as you can. One such muscle is the Subscapularis, located in front of your scapula or shoulder blade.
If you want to give this muscle a good stretch and strengthen its range of motion, several stretches and exercises can help. In this article, we will explore 8 of these stretches and exercises so that you can take advantage of their benefits for yourself!
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What Is The Subscapularis
The subscapularis muscle is an important part of the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that surround and provide stability to the shoulder joint. Located in the chest region, the Subscapularis is responsible for internal rotation and adduction of the arm at the shoulder joint. These movements and their stabilizing force on the joint contribute to effective and safe movement during activities such as throwing a baseball or tennis serve.
Additionally, due to its involvement in the stabilization of the shoulder joint, damage or weakening of this muscle can result in instability or pain when engaging in certain upper-body activities. As such, it has become an important target for physical therapists to treat injuries within athletes or individuals involved in athletics and other rigorous activities.
How Does the Subscapularis Get Tight or Hurt?
The Subscapularis can become tight or painful due to a variety of factors. This tightness or soreness typically occurs from overuse or injury; however, underlying conditions such as arthritis can also be a factor. Treatment for tightness and pain in the subscapularis muscle may include stretching and strengthening exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy.
In more severe cases, surgery may be recommended. However, no matter the cause of the tightness or pain in the subscapularis muscle, prompt diagnosis and treatment are necessary to prevent further complications and return to normal function quickly.
How to Identify Subscapularis Weakness
Identifying subscapularis weakness can be achieved through physical assessment and testing.
- To perform a physical assessment, the therapist asks the patient to place their arm behind their back while they feel the muscles between their shoulder blade and the chest wall with their fingers. From there, the therapist can identify if any tenderness is present and further assess the strength of any muscle movement through manual resistance.
- Subscapularis weakness can also be tested through specific exercises. For example, the empty-can test requires one to hold their arms in front of them with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle; from there, they must attempt to externally rotate their arm against pressure placed on it by the physical therapist’s other hand – if successful movement occurs, then no subscapularis weakness is present.
- Finally, imaging assessments such as MRI scans may be used to further examine for any signs of subscapularis dysphagia or injury.
With these methods, it is possible for a licensed medical professional to accurately assess and diagnose subscapularis weakness.
8 Subscapularis Stretches
Now that you have a better understanding of the function and importance of the subscapularis muscle, here are some stretches that can help to improve its range of motion.
- Side Arm Raise
- Cross Body Arm Raise
- Internal Rotation Stretch
- Doorway Stretch
- Standing Wall Stretch
- Cross Chest Stretch
- Towel Stretch
- Seated Rotational Stretch
Side Arm Raise
One stretch you can use to target the subscapularis muscle is the side arm raise.
- To perform this exercise, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, or sit with your spine held tall.
- Hold a lightweight or theraband in one hand, lift it from your side to shoulder level, then back down again.
- Keep your shoulders neutral and repeat for ten to fifteen repetitions on both sides of your body. For the best results, perform the side arm raise frequently and incorporate other shoulder stretches into your training regimen.
Cross Body Arm Raise
The Cross Body Arm Raise is a simple yet effective stretch for the subscapularis muscle.
- Starting by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise and reach forward the arm on the same side as the muscle being stretched.
- With your opposite arm, grab the hand of your raised arm just above the elbow from behind and pull your hand towards your body lightly.
- You should feel a comfortable stretch across the Subscapularis; hold this position for about 30 seconds before slowly releasing it.
- Closely monitor any sensations during this stretch and familiarize yourself with what feels comfortable; stop immediately if there is any sudden discomfort or pain.
- Alternatively, you can also perform this stretch while lying prone if preferred.
Internal Rotation Stretch
The Internal Rotation Stretch is a beneficial exercise for stretching the Subscapularis muscle.
- To perform this stretch, stand up and bring your arm across your body to parallel the ground.
- Position your other arm behind you and use it to hold onto the elbow of the arm being stretched, gently pulling it closer to your torso.
- Hold this position for 15-30 seconds before releasing.
- You should feel increased flexibility in your shoulder area due to increased blood flow in your shoulder muscles. As with most stretching exercises, consistency over time will help yield lasting results.
The Doorway Stretch is an exercise designed to target the subscapularis muscle.
- You will need a doorframe or other sturdy structure to place your arm on and lean into.
- Begin by standing in a doorway, facing away from it. Place one arm against the frame at shoulder level and then turn your body away from that arm until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder.
- Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds before releasing and repeating on both sides.
Standing Wall Stretch
- To perform this exercise, stand in front of a wall with your back facing it and place your arm straight against the wall at shoulder level.
- Rotate away from your raised arm until you feel a stretch on the inside of your shoulder. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds before releasing and repeating on both sides.
- This exercise can also be performed in seated or supine positions if desired.
Cross Chest Stretch
Stretching the chest muscles is an effective way to target the subscapularis muscle.
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart or sitting up tall with your spine straight.
- Extend one arm across your chest and place the other hand besides that arm near the elbow. Gently pull your arm closer to your body until you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of the shoulder; hold this position for 15-30 seconds before releasing and repeating on both sides.
The Towel Stretch is a great exercise for stretching the Subscapularis muscle and can be done relatively easily.
- Begin by lying or sitting on the ground, depending on your comfort level, with a towel held firmly in both hands.
- Bend your elbow to 90 degrees and place one end of the towel around your forearm just below the elbow.
- Grab onto the other end of the towel and move as far away from it as possible. You should feel a gentle but steady stretch through your shoulder area.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then repeat with your other arm – you will soon reap the benefits of the stretch, which include improved range of motion, decreased pain and discomfort in the area, and improved mobility.
Seated Rotational Stretch
Doing the seated rotational stretch will help improve your Subscapularis flexibility.
- To perform this exercise, begin by sitting in a chair and crossing one leg over the other at the ankles.
- With both hands, grasp your knee and move it up on top so that your leg rests against your chest.
- Keeping your back straight, twist gently and slowly towards the side of your lifted leg while taking deep breaths.
- Focus on stretching each side and feel the stretch from the shoulder to the lower back.
- Continue for 30 seconds on each side as recommended for best results. Practicing this stretch regularly will help to strengthen and stretch the subscapularis muscle area for improved shoulder flexibility and strength.
With regular stretching, it is possible to improve the range of motion and strength of the subscapularis muscle over time. However, it is important to consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise or stretching program. They can advise you on the proper form and technique to ensure safe and effective results.
Regular physical therapy sessions may be recommended if significant weakness is present, especially if accompanied by pain or dysfunction. However, with diligent effort and proper guidance, regaining mobility in this muscle group can help one lead a better quality of life.