Winging Shoulder-blades From Vinyasa Practice

The Scapulae are held close to the chest wall by the Serratus Anterior muscle. When this muscle is weak, the shoulder blades will lift off of the back, giving the appearance of wings. When this occurs on one side only, it is usually as a result of injury to the shoulder or chest wall, or damage to the nerves in the neck and should be assessed and treated by a qualified professional.

The Serratus Anterior and Rhomboid are utilised very strongly in Chaturanga and Galavasana and these are some of the best asanas for strengthening the Serratus Anterior muscle. However, some people do a lot of vinyasa, without any improvement in their ability to hold their shoulder blades down, or ever being able to do postures such as Galavasana.
When the muscular system of the body creates movement, the muscles most suited to the task are used, but if those muscles are unavailable, due to injury or fatigue, other muscles are used to create the required movements. This is called Substitution or Compensation. The problem is that when this takes place, neural patterns are created which become habitual, the body’s nervous system doesn’t change back to its previous motor patterns, but continues to use the new patterns it has learned.

Physical Therapists have noticed that the following can occur when people perform exercises that use the Rhomboids very strongly: if the Serratus Anterior becomes fatigued, the Triceps and Pectoral muscles are substituted and the Serratus Anterior falls into disuse and becomes weaker and weaker.

This means that people who push themselves too much to do vinyasa when they are tired are actually weakening their bodies, rather than getting stronger: knowing your limits is crucial.
Because of faulty motor learning, the muscular system needs to be re-educated to use the correct muscles, and you might need a few visits to a Biokineticist or Physiotherapist to sort it out as well as a re-evaluation of your ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality.

Reading sources:
Kendall, McCreary, Provance, 1993, Muscles, Testing and Function
Cook, 2003, Athletic Body in Balance

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