Scapular winging is a dysfunction involving the stabilizing muscles of the scapula resulting in imbalance and abnormal motion of the scapula. Ideally, the scapula should lay flat against the ribcage, whereas when they wing, they have a tendency to protrude. Although scapular winging isn’t necessarily associated with pain, at Functional Patterns we’ve found scapular winging to be associated with shoulder, neck and in some instances even back pain.
The Possible Causes of Scapular Winging
So what exactly causes a winged scapula? A winged scapula is likely a stability problem. Usually muscles such as the pecs and lats are not firing in a manner that provides appropriate motion of the scapula, which leads to dysfunction. People who have done a lot of stretching, isolated mobility work, and overhead sports can have a tendency to exhibit scapular winging. Although this is not always the case, so there could be a genetic component to it as well.
You may have already read our article on Shoulder Blade Pain. Indeed, scapular winging is a postural dysfunction that could be related to pain in the thoracic or mid and upper back. Some studies suggest that there is not necessarily a correlation between scapular winging and pain, but study metrics are often flawed. In order to learn more about this, check out our video on The Problems With Evidence Based Fitness on our Functional Patterns Youtube channel. In our experience, getting the most results with scapular winging in the industry, this postural dysfunction can certainly be related to pain. Or if not pain, dysfunctional movement, which will likely lead to pain eventually.
Normalization of Scapular Winging
You may be wondering, “Should I worry about having a winged scapula? Is scapular winging normal?” Many PT’s may actually tell you that it’s normal to have a scapula that wings, and may suggest traditional weight training exercises in order to promote stability in the scapula. But traditional lifting typically creates more longitudinal compression on your spine and ribs which can make scapular winging worse. On top of that, trying to lift weights with a winged scapula will likely increase your risk of injury, because you haven’t addressed the movement dysfunction. Also, most traditional weightlifting doesn’t include any rotation, which is a major variable to deal with if you actually want to solve scapular winging.
How to Solve This Postural Dysfunction
How then to deal with scapular winging? First and foremost, you are going to want to address the fundamentals of your posture and movement. If you are able to create the correct tensions in your structure, then you will end up having much more stable scapula. In order to do this, you have to have a reference point for what good movement of the scapula is, which is why our method is based off the most athletic and dynamic movers in the world. Otherwise, you will just be guessing at what good scapular motion relative to the rest of your body consists of. This is why training your gait, which is how you walk and run, is so imperative to solving dysfunctions such as scapular winging. The way your scapula moves is in relation to the rest of your body, not in isolation.
We do NOT recommend stretching in order to address scapular winging. Scapular winging is a problem of having too much mobility in the scapula relative to the shoulder joint and stretching will certainly make this problem worse. This is why it’s important to learn how to engage your pecs and lats in a manner that promotes stability throughout your ribcage and scapula.
Ultimately, at Functional Patterns we are of the opinion that a winged scapula is indeed a dysfunctional postural pattern. Utilizing the principles of postural structural integrity, it is definitely possible to correct this dysfunction, decrease pain, and promote stability through the scapula and shoulders.