The serratus anterior is arguably the most important muscle for shoulder stability. This muscle attaches from the inside shoulder blade to the first nine ribs. It permits abduction and allows for both upward and downward rotation.
Serratus anterior needs to be fixed at the ribs to stabilize the shoulder. If you use this accessory breathing muscle to respirate, then you can’t stabilize your shoulder.
Other accessory breathing muscles include neck muscles, like the scalenes. These muscles are anatomically taut, from vertebrae to ribs. If they are being used to help you breathe 25,000 times a day, they get even more taut.
The middle scalene has an important nerve running through it, called the long thoracic nerve.
Not so ironically, this nerve innervates serratus anterior. Overuse of the scalenes compresses this nerve, decreasing potential electrical supply to serratus anterior.
For every neck breath you use to pull the ribs upwards, you risk further compression of the nerve heading to the primary stabilizing muscle of your shoulder.
The short note: To help maintain shoulder stability, breathe from your gut, not your neck.
Get your breathing technique analyzed by a movement professional. Make sure the expert assesses quiet breathing, long relaxed breathing, and forced/sharp inhalation and exhalation.
Yes, you’re alive and breathing. But you can be doing it better, guaranteed. And breathing should assist shoulder movement – not hinder it.
Learn to breathe from the gut, only using the neck when absolutely necessary.
If the shoulder blades still wing out after much shoulder stability work, focus must be oriented to the neck and the breath.
As a clinician and anatomist, I consider all shoulder stability problems as neck and breathing problems until proven otherwise.
As always, it’s your call.
- Dr. Kathy Dooley