What is Serratus Anterior Pain and How to Manage

Photo by Keith Johnston on Pixabay

Jul 09, 2020 01:00 PM

The serratus anterior muscle is a fan-shaped muscle at the lateral wall of the thorax, spanning the upper eight or nine ribs. It helps you rotate or move your scapula (shoulder blade) forward and up. Sometimes it’s referred to as the “boxer’s muscle,” since it’s responsible for the movement of the scapula when a person throws a punch.

As to how it goes with other muscles within our body, the serratus muscle can get injured, resulting in pains of differing intensities. Serratus anterior pain can be caused by several different medical conditions and lifestyle factors. That’s why it’s important to learn more about this muscle, the pains associated with it, and how to better deal with the discomforts caused.

Serratus anterior muscle

Photo by rmk081000 on Flickr

The main part of the serratus anterior lies deep under the scapula and the pectoral muscles. The serratus anterior muscle is very thin and covers the side of the ribcage. You can feel it by putting your hand just below the armpit.

It also helps to experience how your ribs feel so that you can distinguish the ribs and this thin and superficial muscle. To do so, just feel the first ribs under your nipple, and you will be able to distinguish the muscle from the ribs.

Serratus anterior function

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

The function of the serratus anterior muscle is to allow the forward rotation of the arm and to pull the scapula forward and around the rib cage. Due to this muscle, the scapula can move laterally—this is very important for the elevation of the arm.

The serratus anterior muscle also allows the upward rotation of the arm, which allows a person to lift items over their head. When the shoulder blade is in a fixed position, like when you’re breathing after a sprint, the serratus anterior lifts the ribcage and thus supports breathing.

Serratus anterior pain

Photo by Kristen on Flickr

Tension, stress, overuse, and minor injuries are some of the most common causes of muscle pain. This pain is common in sports with repetitive motions, such as swimming, tennis, or weightlifting.

Another cause of serratus anterior pain can also come from serratus anterior myofascial pain syndrome (SAMPS). It often manifests as chest pain, but can also cause arm or hand pain. It’s rare myofascial pain syndrome.

The more serious medical conditions can lead to serratus anterior pain or symptoms similar to it, for an instance, slipped or broken rib, pleurisy (inflammation or infection of the lung and chest tissues), ankylosing spondylitis (a type of arthritis that affects the spine), or asthma.

Meanwhile, the serratus interior pain itself results in the chest, back, or arm. The pain also often results in difficulty lifting your arms overhead or having a normal range of motion with the arm and shoulder. The other symptoms you may experience including arm or finger pain, difficulty with deep breathing, sensitivity, tightness, pain in the chest or breasts, or shoulder blade pain.

Serratus anterior treatment

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pixabay

The pain often resolves on its own without any specific treatment. But, some people find that the pain is just unbearable and need some relief. If you experience some discomfort caused by the pain, you can take a break and try to rest the muscle as much as possible.

Applying a towel-wrapped ice pack to the sore part of the muscle can also work. You can also try wearing tighter shirts or wrapping the area with bandages to help reduce swelling. Taking medicine like aspirin or ibuprofen is also helpful to ease the pain.

Serratus anterior stretch

Photo by AndiP on Pixabay

Stretching before and after activities can help reduce the risk of serratus anterior injury since the muscle is somewhat neglected during exercise. You can try doing the following stretch methods.

Shoulder blade protractions

1. Lean against a wall and press the backs of your palms and your elbows against it. 

2. Then slide your shoulder blades forward (away from each other)—keep them down as well—and hold. 

Scapular pushups

1. Assume a pushup position. 

2. Keep your arms straight and carefully slide your shoulder blades inward towards each other, then outwards away from each other. 

3. Repeat this action at least ten times.

You can also try this exercise. Stand with your back against a wall and inch your arms upward against it in stages, shoulders down. Start with your thumbs touching the wall, and then graduate to your elbows pressed as far back as you can manage.