The importance of the shoulder blades

June 25, 2014 by physicalrevolution No Comments »

The shoulder blades – what the hell are they for and why do we have no awareness of what movements they perform? Whether you are a swimmer, play rugby, golf or simply work alot in a seated position, learn to control your shoulder blades and dramatically reduce the potential for shoulder injury..

Physical Revolution Worthing physiotherapy team run free shoulder injury prevention Worthing seminars on the importance of shoulder awareness for anyone from gym goers to swimmers and bootcampers. What is the shoulder blade for starters? Well it’s the big flat bone at the top of our back – it sits on top of the rib cage on which it kind of floats via a muscular connection in the form of a muscle called serratus anterior.  It creates the socket within which your shoulder ball sits and is the sole connection between your arm and your skeleton. Not only does it attach to the shoulder and rib cage but it also has strong muscular links to your neck and upper back SO if you manage to get to grips with the shoulder blade – not only can you reduce your risk of shoulder injury BUT also limit the incidence of neck and back pain and unlock power and strength in other movements.

The shoulder blade or scapula has 17 muscle attachments !! …. which means that the brain has to have a super awareness of all of these muscles to ensure that it moves smoothly with control over the rib cage – if it doesn’t ?well that means that the ball of your shoulder doesn’t sit quite  so snugly in the socket ….what happens then? well that’s when we begin to experience painful conditions such as impingement – this is where pain sensitive structures become “squeezed” in and around your shoulder, tendons become warn leading to conditions like “rotator cuff tears” or bony spurs begin to appear around the shoulder.

Why are we not well acquainted with our shoulder blade ?  Well if you believe in evolution then we descended from apes – we moved out of the trees and onto all 4’s , from there some of us evolved further to be upright and “bi-pedal” to allow us to scour the land for predators and forage for food (Lewis et al 2001). Our hands became increasingly important to the rate of our evolution – they allowed us to design tools with which our species could evolve further and further – to the point where we created the thing which i am now sat at, writing this blog – laptops/computers. Our evolution may have led to the devolution of our shoulder blade awareness – having gone from hunter gatherers to seated typists, our shoulders have become used to a sedentary life – never really spending much time above the horizontal…

We sit in flexed postures and our shoulder blades lie dormant….our brain then places our shoulder blades waaaaay down the list of priorities when it comes to movement and in essence FORGETS how to use the beautiful blend of muscles around it to ensure that it moves in a smooth and stable manner. The brain is fickle – it will quickly forget – it is a survival mechanism that will only function well at the things it does on a regular basis – using the same muscles for the same movements results in certain muscles becoming increasingly dominant whilst others get forgotten about and left to wither…the longer they are left the more  difficult it is for the brain to recall how to use them properly which, over time, leads to pain for the reasons highlighted at the start (Thelen 2005).

What makes it all the more difficult is the fact that our shoulder blades sit completely out of sight around the back of our body. The brain likes visual input when learning motor skills – it is a lazy and easy way for the brain to gain feedback about correct movement SO unless you have the head of a barn owl you need to learn how to FEEL the movement of your shoulder blades in your MIND’S EYE even before you think about bombarding them with weighted exercises such as pressups and weighted rowing movements. And no, getting an awareness of your shoulder blades does not mean squeezing your elbows back as far as you can behind you like a soldier:

Look at this rowing movement – if i concentrate on pulling my elbows back (and close to my body – i use latissimus dorsi excessively), then my shoulders duck forwards – there is no way the shoulder ball is sitting snugly in the socket – we need to learn to move the shoulder blades first and then the shoulders and arms follow in that order…

wherever your arm goes you must learn to invite the shoulder blade along also.


I could talk forever on this subject but i need to wrap it up – if i were to give you revolutionaries one exercise to perform to reacquaint yourself with your shoulder blades, then it would be this one:


Look at where i am moving from – i am using the top third of my shoulder blade to pull them back NOT the big muscles either side of my neck (Upper Trapezius) NOR the big muscles under my arm (Latissimus Dorsi) – i am using a blend of all three areas of the shoulder blade – the top muscles (upper trapezius) at 15%, the top third of my shoulder blade (Rhomboids and mid trapezius) 70% and the bottom third of my shoulder blade (Lower trapezius and latissimus dorsi) 15% when i am drawing my shoulder blades back.



Remember Revolutionaries, this is just one plane of movement of the shoulder blade, we haven’t even touched on what happens when we lift the arm overhead or out to the side BUT keep in touch with the blog and we will post the next installment very soon…

Remember, if you are experiencing pain or are unsure how to perform any of these exercises please consult a Worthing Physio







Lewis J et al 2001 Subacromial impingement syndrome. Has evolution failed us?. Physiotherapy. 87, 4. 191-198

Thelen E 2005. Dynamic systems theory and the complexity of change. Psychoanalytic dialogues: The international journal of relational perspectives. 15:2


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