Anatomy of the Scapula

Updated on April 15, 2020
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Niall is a Master of Osteopathy working from private clinics in Yorkshire. He provides strength & conditioning and anatomy learning online.

Basic Role and Anatomy of the Scapula

Humans have two scapula bones. Commonly known as the shoulder blade, the scapula is a relatively flat bone which articulates with both the humerus of the upper arm, forming the glenohumeral joint, and the clavicle (collar bone) forming the acromioclavicular joint. Commonly forgotten however, is the glide like articulation formed between the ribs and the scapula, known as the scapulothoracic joint.

By observing the shape of the clavicle, you can identify another key role it provides. Muscular attachment point for stability and leverage! I believe that the Scapula is the most optimal muscle to use to teach students exactly how "Structure governs function." Observe the long grooves in the bone such as the Supraspinous fossa, infraspinous fossa and glenoid fossa. These are perfectly designed to allow individual muscles to implement a broad, extremely durable attachment point to create leverage from the scapula to the upper arm. They're also perfectly orientated to allow the shoulder to move dynamically. You only have to observe the large number of actions the shoulder is capable of (Adduction, abduction, internal rotation and external rotation, flexion and extension, elevation, depression) to gain an insight into how intricate this flat, basic looking bone actually is.

The human scapula
The human scapula | Source

The Muscles

The scapula is one of the largest muscular attachment points of the human body. A total of 17 muscles attach to it! Splitting it all up is important. I will separate the muscles into groups I believe to be a useful way of remembering and making sense of them.

At University I was always told to think of the scapula as "Swimming in a sea of muscle". This really is key to understanding its movements and injuries. The muscles are in charge of the scapula!

— Niall Walsh

Muscular Groupings of the Scapula

The rotator cuff
Arm levers
Medial border
The big ones
Anterior ribs
Supraspinatus
Biceps Brachii (both heads)
Levator Scapula
Latissimus Dorsi
Pectoralis Minor
Infraspinatus
Corachobrachialis
Rhomboid Minor
Trapezius
Serratus Anterior
Teres Minor
Teres Major
Rhomboid Major
Deltoid
 
Subscapularis
Triceps Brachii (long head)
Omohyoid (Inferior belly)
 
 
My own personal way of remembering them. Some could cross over into different groups.
Trapezius (One of the largest attached muscles)
Trapezius (One of the largest attached muscles) | Source

Key Nerves

The muscles of the scapula are innervated by a number of nerves. These include; accessory nerve (trapezius), dorsal scapula nerve (levator scapula, rhomboid major and minor), long thoracic nerve (Serratus anterior), subscapular nerve, suprascapular nerve and axillary nerve (rotator cuff and deltoid), musculocutaneous nerve (biceps, coracobrachialis), radial nerve (tricep).

One of the most important nerves to note is the long thoracic, as it innervates the serratus anterior muscle. If damaged can lead to the medical condition "winged scapula"

Nerves surrounding the scapula
Nerves surrounding the scapula | Source

Natural Movements and Exercises

Whenever exercise is prescribed, regardless of body part or injury, it should aim to or at least be working towards a functional movement. With any of the shoulder joints this becomes even more important due to its extreme flexibility and range of motion. Movements should be built up slowly and any resistance loaded appropriately. Using a variety of equipment can also provide the random stimulus the body needs to adapt and strengthen. These include resistance bands, kettlebells and dumbbells. Below are some videos incorporating that functional aspect and utilising the scapula to It’s full impressive potential.

These exercises are designed to let the shoulder work hard and effectively and more importantly as a unit! Utilising all those integral muscles that form the rotator cuff as well as the big powerful muscles like the trapezius, deltoid and lats!

  1. Seated Kettlebell “up” hold & press. Best particularly before seated shoulder press or military press as it uses a relatively light weight so doesn’t fatigue the larger muscles you’ll need later with the barbell/dumbbell. Leave your ego’s at home for this one and begin with light kettlebells... you’ll see why once you start. Weight in videos are 16kg for holds, 12kg for press.
  2. Banded retractions & shoulder rotations. Aimed at letting the shoulder blade glide nicely over the ribs and through its sea of muscle without restriction.
  3. Snatch (wide) grip barbell articulation. Letting the barbell slide slightly down the upper back calls for huge external rotation and shoulder retraction, if you’ve been bodybuilding for a few years or you‘re a little immobile you’ll likely struggle with this. So start with a narrower grip and slowly work your way out week after week. Finish with some presses from the position to create a more functional movement! Making the barbell feel light from that deep bottom position down the back, means when it comes to behind the neck press or shoulder press from the usual positon, you’ll be stronger.
  4. Kettlebell “up” Bench. Utilising pectoralis minor and Serratus Anterior.

Shoulder and Scapula Stability Exercises

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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