The scapula is the all important Governor General of the shoulder. In the infantry of shoulders, the Scapula is the element that rules the masses. Without it and it’s role, the shoulder, like a ruling General has no organisation, no structure and any power that it can have via its masses of power and numbers, is minimised by a ruling weakness that is unable to harness the inherent force that it has. As with battle plans of any invading force over the years (can you tell I’ve been hanging around historical places of late) a smaller force with a cohesive and intelligent battle plan can often outwit and outmanouver a more powerful, powerhold because it has a ‘co-ordinated attack’. Thus the lesson is learned, without a ruling co-ordinated feature, any powerful force is rendered inadequate and less able to perform and achieve.
Much like a floor acts as a platform against which you jump when you launch yourself into the air in a glorious display of athletic grace and ability, the scapula serves the same purpose for any pushing motion or lifting motion of the arm, be it overhead, in front or below the shoulder line. The shoulder joint is possibly the most flexible and remarkable of the larger skeletal articulations as it has a range of motion and ability to move in a full 360 degrees of movement. To effectively use this range of motion and more importantly to avoid injuring or ‘dislocating’ the shoulder in movement, there is a great need for stability of the joint. In this instance the scapular provides this stability and a platform for movement that is the key to any motion of the arm itself in all its arc of movement.
In other articles we have talked about the importance of the rotator cuff and its role in stabilising the head of the humerus in the socket (glenoid fossa) that forms the shoulder articulation. The articulation is supported in place by these all important muscles and the shoulder is unique in this aspect as it does not rely on ligaments to do this job for it (as it's primary form of supporting the articulation). The stability for movement in the scapula is slightly different and is every bit as important as the rotator cuff holding the articulation in place.
The scapula acts as the platform for which the arm can push against to generate force. For example, a push up or a pressing motion, relies on the scapula to be stable to provide the platform against which the arm presses to enable the pushing motion. Without stability here, the inherent power of any 'chesty bonds' male is minimised as instability in ANY platform for movement results in distributed power of an action: i.e the power generated is dissipated by a non stable base. Think of doing a push up on an upturned Bosu Ball in the gym. It's harder right? It require more effort because you have to stabilise the base. This is the best way to explain what happens if your scapula isn't stable - you have to work harder on creating a platform rather than being able to launch yourself into powerful all important push ups for your Governor General Boot Camp instructor.
The scapula stabilisers are not the big impressive powerful muscles that are on show poolside at Boy Charlton Pool in Woolloomollo. The Rhomboids and Lower/Mid Trapezius are of primary concern when we are talking about scapula stabilisation. They work in cohesion with the other smaller muscles such as the serratus anterior, lower trapezius and Levator Scapulae to hold the scapula in place. These powerful muscles are so important to keeping the scapula lying flat and against the rib cage.
Often the issue with this condition comes about through an overuse of the anterior shoulder muscles. The glamour muscles of the pectoralis, anterior deltoids, even the biceps. Over emphasising or shortening in these muscles through too many bench presses or bicep curls results in a pronation or inward curving of the shoulder articulation. Essentially that ronded, Wurlitzer look where the bulk of the muscles in the front pull you forward in the shoulders. This results in the scapula being pronated or 'winging' at the back. The medial edge of the scapula is pulled away from the rib cage and the stabiliser group is actually placed under strain as it is stretched beyond its normal length and capacity. This in itself can cause adhesions and trigger points in these muscles and that can also create further problems with shoulder movement and articulation.
To rectify this imbalance, we come back to an old adage of mine Pull more than you Push. Scapular retraction (aka rowing or pulling) helps to target the medial muscles of the scapula (rhomboids/lower & mid trapezius) and develop a healthy balance between the anterior and the posterior muscles so that an even tension or balance of pull is achieved. This has huge implications on the neck alignment and the cervical spine which is discussed in another article. Thus it is important to include pulling motions in your regime or introduce them into a routine if you are chronically weak here.
Pulling motions such as cable rows, rowing, pull ups on rings or TRX equipment, are the types of exercises you need to look at doing. To really target the lower trapezius as well, you need to look at changing the angles of the pull and going from a higher position to a lower angle. Always ensuring that the chest is high and the 'neutral curve' of the lumbar curve is maintained. The scapula don't need to come just back - that results in the 'tits out' posture. The scapula need to come down and back. The best image for this one is to imagine two pockets where your latissimus dorsi cross over the bottom 'point' of your scapula. Those bottom points (bony bits) need to go into those small pockets like a kerchief into a breast pocket. Down AND back helps to lift the chest, flatten the scapula against the ribs and not have you walking around like you are Madonna in pointed bra.
It is not just glamour body image types that suffer from this condition. This is something I see very regularly with a lot of people who work in offices, coming primarily from working on keyboards. The long hours spent staring at a computer screen and having the arms forward on a keyboard can result in this protracted posture of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you aren't pulling your way back to a more balanced posture you are at risk of the same types of injury that the gym goer who is married to the bench press.
So be mindful of your scapula stablisers. They are more imporatant than you realise and with a strong set of stabilisers under your belt, you can bench, push up, and conquer small armies all on your own.