Muscles & Pain

Excerpted from: Surviving Martial Arts by C. M. Shifflett

Subscapularis Pain


L. sub, under, below + scapula, the shoulder blade

Pain in back of shoulder and rear deltoid, possibly extending down arm to elbow. Subscapularis can cause amazing pain behind the shoulder which may travel as far down the arm as the elbow. There may also be an odd bracelet-like band of pain around the wrist. Tenderness at back of wrist and hand may be so severe that the wristwatch must be moved to the other wrist.

What It Is and What It Does

Subscapularis is one of the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. It helps to stabilize the bone of the upper arm in the socket (the glenoid fossa). It pulls the arm towards the body (adduction) and rotates it inwardly (medially).
Subscapularis lies between the shoulder blade and rib cage, out of sight and out of mind for most of us. .

What Goes Wrong

Subscapularis is commonly strained by:
  • Ball pitching, swimming, or forceful overhead lifting,
  • Stopping a fall by reaching backward.
  • Immobilizing the arm close to the body when sleeping, injured, or pressing a purse or child close to the chest.

When tight, subscapularis can prevent the arm from rising. If you find it difficult or painful to reach up and behind your head to comb your hair or throw a ball, this muscle is likely to be involved.

If left untreated, other shoulder muscles (including the pectoralis major) will tighten and shorten causing even more pain. The result is commonly known as “frozen shoulder.”

Testing and Treating

For information on testing the subscapularis, see Rotator Cuff Tests.

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