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Human Biomechanics for Beginners: Shoulder Blades

Your scapulae are two triangular bones that rest on your upper back on either side of the thoracic spine

This column will give you a basic introduction to your scapulae, commonly known as your shoulder blades. It is designed to help you become aware of your movements at your shoulders. And to help you move better.

Your scapulae are two triangular bones that rest on your upper back on either side of your thoracic spine. The singular of scapulae is scapula. Each scapula slides on top of your ribcage. Together your scapulae and the back side of your ribcage create a sliding joint. 

It’s easy to forget about your shoulder blades because they are on your back of your body. And because we often let the upper trapezius take over and do the work of the scapulae. If your scapulae are not moving well, there will be compensatory changes in your posture. Which could be the cause of shoulder pain.

Note: Don’t confuse “shoulder blade” movement with “shoulder joint” movement. The head of the arm bone moves in a shallow ball-and-socket joint. Its technical name is the glenohumeral joint. But it is commonly called the “shoulder joint.” This can be confusing  to newcomers to the language of human body biomechanics. We will cover the movements of the arm bone another time.

Back to the shoulder blades. Each scapula slides on top of the rib cage in 6 different directions, in 3 pairs.

You can try these pairs of movements for yourself:

  • protraction – round your shoulders forward
  • retraction – pinch the shoulder blades toward each other
  • elevation – glide the shoulder blades upward toward the ears
  • depression – glide the shoulder blades downward toward the hips
  • upward rotation – lift the arms overhead (stop this movement if you meet tension or pain or have to compensate with your lower back)
  • downward rotation – return the arms down to the sides of your body
When your shoulder blades are moving well, they support your good posture and your breath. Your entire body will move and feel better

Are you experiencing pain, tightness, or tension in your upper back? Your shoulder blades may not be moving efficiently.

Practice the movements listed above. When you know how your shoulders blades move, you will be able to notice what is working and what is not working. With that awareness, you will be able to create healthier movement patterns.

When your shoulder blades are moving well, they support your good posture and your breath. Your confidence will increase. Your entire body will move better. 

Note: Intelligent movement of the shoulder blades can improve musculoskeletal problems. But localized pain in the left shoulder blade could be a sign of a heart attack. Especially in women. If that is happening, seek medical attention immediately.

[Medical Disclaimer: This article contains information intended to assist you in improving your health and overall well-being. However, the information presented is offered only as-is for informational and educational purposes. It is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a medical professional.]

Photo credit:  45275215 © Sebastian Kaulitzki | Dreamstime.com

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