Winged Scapula Exercises

What is a Winged Scapula?

winged scapula

A Winged Scapula (also known as Scapula Alata) is when the medial (inner) border of the shoulder blade protrudes off the rib cage.

(Ideally – it should sit completely flat!)

A Winged Scapula can be observed in:

  • Normal resting posture (static) and/or
  • Certain shoulder movements (dynamic).

The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. For more information: Medical disclaimer


Why you should address it

A Winged Scapula may lead to:

What causes winging of the Scapula?

The exercises that you will need to do will depend on what is causing your winged scapula in the first place.

1. Pectoralis Minor tightness/over-activity

A tight/overactive Pectoralis Minor (along side a tight levator scapulae and short head biceps) can pull the inner border of the shoulder blade off the rib cage.


2. 
Serratus Anterior weakness/inhibition

location of serratus anterior 

The Serratus Anterior is the primary muscle that anchors the scapula flat onto the rib cage.

It attaches onto the under surface of the shoulder blade and to the side of the rib cage.

If you do not have strength and/or control of this very important muscle, it can lead to scapular winging.

(This whole blog post will be going through a range of different Serratus Anterior Exercises)

3. Long Thoracic Nerve palsy

The Long Thoracic Nerve (which originates in the neck) supplies the Serratus Anterior muscle.

If there are any issues with this nerve, it may result in the inability to contract the Serratus Anterior.

Without this muscle activating, it will be difficult to stabilize the scapula on the rib cage.

Other nerves (when damaged) that can result in scapular winging include the:

  • Dorsal scapular nerve and
  • Spinal accessory nerve.

My recommendation: Get EMG testing of the nerve to see if there are any issues with the electrical signals.

4. Flat thoracic spine

The shoulder blade and rib cage have a matching curved shape. (Concave-Convex relationship)

If the upper back is flat, it can result in the mismatch between the surfaces.

This will prevent the shoulder blade from conforming to the shape of the rib cage. (… no matter how many Serratus Anterior exercises that you do!)

For more information: Exercises for a Flat Thoracic spine.


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Winged Scapula Test

a) Static test 

Instructions:

  • Stand with a relaxed posture.
  • Keep your arms by your sides.
  • Get someone to take a photo of your back.
  • Observe the scapula region.

Results: Does your shoulder blade stick out?

If you can see a definite protrusion of the medial border of the shoulder blade, then you have Scapular Winging.


b) Dynamic test

Instructions:

  • Take a video of yourself performing a:
    • Push up against the wall
    • Raising/lowering your arms or
    • Pulling motion.
  • Observe the position of the scapula during movement.

Results: If there is a protrusion of the medial border during the movement, then you have Scapular Winging.


Winged Scapula Exercises

NoteThe following exercises for Winged Scapula are designed to be gentle and pain-free.


 1. Release the pec minor

pec minor release for winged scapula

Instructions:

  • Place a massage ball directly underneath of your Pec Minor.
    • To locate your Pec minor, check it out on Google.
  • Apply your body weight onto the massage ball.
  • Proceed to perform a circular motion over the ball.
  • Make sure to cover the entire muscle
  • Duration: 1-2 minutes

2. Stretches for Winged Scapula

a) Levator Scapula

levator scapulae stretch for scapular winging

Instructions:

  • Hold onto a stationary object at hip level.
    • (You can also use a stretch or resistance band if you have one.)
  • Lean away from that hand to lock the shoulder blade down.
  • Tilt your head towards the opposite arm pit.
    • To increase stretch: Pull the side of your head further using your other hand.
  • Aim to feel a stretch between your neck and shoulder blade.
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

c) Pec Minor

pec minor stretch

Instructions:

  • Place your hands high up on a door frame. (see above)
  • Tilt your shoulder blades backwards.
  • Lunge forwards.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the chest area.
    • Make sure that you do not arch your lower back as you push into the wall.
    • Do not let your ribs flare outwards.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

c) Front shoulder stretch

short head bicep stretch

Instructions:

  • With both hands on a bench behind you, let your body sink down as low as possible. (see above)
  • Keep your shoulder blades tilted backwards.
  • Keep your elbows in.
    • Don’t let them flare out.
  • Do not let your shoulders tip forwards.
  • You should feel a stretch at the front of your shoulders.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

3. Activate the Serratus anterior

How to fix a Winged Scapula?

… You target the Serratus Anterior!

The main function of the Serratus Anterior is to keep your shoulder blade flat onto your rib cage!

This is the most important part of the blog post: It is VITAL that you know how to activate and feel the Serratus Anterior muscle working when you are performing the Winged Scapula exercises.


Activating the Serratus Anterior:

winged scapula exercises serratus anterior

Instructions:

  • Assume the wall plank position.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior:
    • Tilt the shoulder blades BACKWARDS.
    • Pull your shoulder blades DOWN and AROUND the ribs.
    • Keep your shoulders long and wide.
  • Keep your neck completely relaxed. (Don’t shrug!)
  • Push your forearms into the wall.
  • Aim to feel the contraction in the lower and side region of the scapula.
    • If you can’t feel the contraction, round your back as you push your forearms into the wall.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Progression: Whilst maintaining the activation of the Serratus Anterior, slide your forearms up/down the wall.

Once you understand exactly how to ENGAGE this special muscle, let’s get started with the Serratus Anterior exercises!

“Mark! How do I strengthen my Serratus Anterior?”

Check out the following exercises!

Note: The exercises are arranged in order of difficulty. Aim to progress to the next level only when you are ready.


Level 1: Isolate the Serratus anterior

a) Rock back

serratus anterior exercise on the floor

Instructions:

  • Assume the plank position with your knees on the floor.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior.
  • Push your forearms into the floor.
  • Rock your body backwards as far back as possible.
  • Make sure you can feel the Serratus Anterior engaging throughout the exercise.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Repeat 30 times.

b) Push up plus (against the wall)

serratus anterior exercise on wall

Instructions:

  • Assume the push up position on the wall with your arms straightened.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior.
  • Push your hands into the wall.
  • Whilst keeping your arms completely straight, proceed to protract your shoulder blades.
    • Think of your shoulder blades gliding down and around.
  • Hold this end position for 5 seconds.
  • Make sure you can feel the Serratus Anterior engaging throughout the exercise.
  • Slowly retract your shoulder blades back to the starting neutral position.
  • Repeat 30 times.

c) Push up plus (plank position)

exercises for serratus anterior winged scapula

Instructions:

  • Assume the plank position on the wall. (see above)
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior.
  • Push your forearms into the wall.
  • Whilst keeping your forearms on the wall, proceed to protract your shoulder blades.
    • Think of your shoulder blades gliding down and around.
  • Hold this end position for 5 seconds.
  • Make sure you can feel the Serratus Anterior engaging throughout the exercise.
  • Retract shoulder blades back to the starting neutral position
  • Repeat 30 times.

Level 2: Serratus anterior Exercises (+ Resistance)

d) Push up plus (with resistance band)

resistance band exercises for scapular winging

Instructions:

  • Hold onto a resistance band as shown above.
    • (Make sure you choose a resistance you can handle.)
  • Assume the above position on the wall with your arms straightened.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior.
  • Whilst keeping your arms completely straight, proceed to protract your shoulder blades.
  • Hold this end position for 5 seconds.
  • Make sure you can feel the Serratus Anterior engaging throughout the exercise.
  • Retract the shoulder blades back to the starting neutral position
  • Repeat 30 times.

e) Protraction in lying

scapular winging exercises

Instructions:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Whilst holding onto a weight, lock your arms straight in front of you.
    • Use a weight that you are able to control properly.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior.
  • Push the weight up towards the sky whilst keeping the arm completely straight.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Make sure you can feel the Serratus Anterior engaging throughout the exercise.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Repeat 30 times.
  • Progression: Whilst holding the arm in the same vertical position as seen above, roll your body to the side. Repeat 15 times.

Level 3: Serratus anterior activation (+ Shoulder movement)

f) Push up

wall push up serratus anterior exercise

Instructions:

  • Assume a push up position on the wall.
  • Activate the Serratus anterior THROUGHOUT movement.
  • Perform a push up.
  • Keep your shoulders wide and long.
  • Repeat 30 times.

g) Wall slides (with resistance band)

wall slides

Instructions:

  • Hold onto a resistance band. (see above)
    • Use a resistance that is appropriate for you.
  • Assume the wall plank position.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior THROUGHOUT movement.
  • Slide your forearms up/down the wall.
    • Maintain the pressure on the wall through the forearms
  • Repeat 15 times.

h) 1 arm pivot

exercises for winged scapula

Instructions:

  • Assume the wall plank position.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior muscle.
  • Push the forearm (on the side of the Winged scapula) into the wall.
    • Maintain this pressure throughout the exercise.
  • Whilst keep that arm fixated on the wall, rotate your body away.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Repeat 15 times.

i) Arm raises (with resistance band)

fix winged scapula

Instructions:

  • Hold onto a resistance band. (as shown above)
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior THROUGHOUT movement.
  • When raising your hand – Try to push your hands as far away from the body whilst keeping your shoulder blades back, down and around throughout movement.
  • Raise and lower your arms from your side.
  • Repeat 15 times.

Level 4: Weight bear (Both arms)

j) Plank

plank exercise with serratus anterior

Instructions:

  • Assume the plank position on the floor. (see above)
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior muscle.
  • Push the forearms into the floor.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Do NOT let your shoulder blades cave in.
  • Note: If you are unable to maintain a good position of your shoulder blade, you can do this exercise on your knees instead.

k) Push up

Instructions:

  • Assume the push up position on the floor. (see above)
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior muscle THROUGHOUT movement.
  • Perform a push up.
  • Do NOT let your shoulder blades cave in.
    • Keep the shoulder wide and long!
  • Repeat 10 times.

Level 5: Weight bear (Single arm)

m) Straight arm plank (with pivot)

straight arm plank with pivot

Instructions:

  • Assume the straight arm plank position.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior muscle THROUGHOUT exercise.
  • Lean your weight into the hand that is on the side of the scapula winging.
  • Whilst keep that arm fixated on the floor, slowly rotate your body away. (see above)
  • Return to starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Progression: Go slower

l) Plank (with pivot)

  • Assume the plank position on the floor.
  • Activate the Serratus Anterior muscle.
  • Push the forearm (on the side you are targeting) into the floor.
    • Maintain this pressure throughout the exercise.
  • Rotate your body away as you lift your other forearm off the floor.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Repeat 15 times.

Exercise to avoid when addressing Winged Scapula

Do NOT simply just “squeeze your shoulder blades back together”.

(This movement may actually make your scapular winging even worse!)

Instead, learn how to correctly position your shoulder blades:

How to position the shoulders

shoulder posture

Instructions:

1. Serratus Anterior activation: 

  • Reach and stretch out your hands as far to opposite sides as possible. (see above)
  • Keep your shoulders wide and long.

2. Retraction:

  • Bring your arms slightly backwards.
  • Aim to feel a gentle contraction between your shoulder blades.
  • (Do NOT over squeeze your shoulders back together.)

3. Posterior Tilt:

  • Rotate your arms backwards as far as you can so that your thumbs are almost pointing towards the floor.

4. Final step: Take note of your shoulder position.

Keep this position!

… And gently lower your arms by your side.

Other areas to address

If you have persisted with these Winged Scapula exercises and still experiencing issues with the scapula position, you may need to also address the position of the rib cage.

This is influenced by the following:

a) Scoliosis

scoliosis winged scapula

Scoliosis refers to the lateral curvature that occurs in the thoracic and/or lumbar spine.

This can affect the shape of the rib cage on which the scapula sits on.

For more information: Scoliosis Exercises

b) Flat Thoracic Spine

A flat thoracic spine (loss of natural kyphotic curve) can make the back of the rib cage flat as well.

This will affect how the shoulder blade sits on the rib cage,

For more information: Flat Thoracic Spine Exercises

What to do next…

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!


About Mark Wong:

Mark is a Physiotherapist who has been helping his patients fix their posture for the past 11 years. He created the Posture Direct blog in 2015 with the goal of helping as many people fix their own posture.

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436 thoughts on “Winged Scapula Exercises”

  1. Hi,Mark
    I have both scoliosis and hyper lordosis … hyper lordosis is beacause of the spondy i have
    i wanted to know if my winged scapula is related to my scoliosis and hyperlorsis and if yes can i fix this … thanks for respponding

    Reply
    • Hey Shyn,

      Winged scapula can be a result of scoliosis. This is due to the change of shape of the rib cage.

      Hyperlordosis should not directly affect the winging of the scapula.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Thanks for responding me …if I get a surgery because of my spondy can i gain more height and if yes how much? And can i fix my winged scapula even though it’s because of the scolioses?

        Reply
  2. Hi Mark. What kind of doctor should I see regarding this issue? I have had problems finding a doctor that can explain and treat my condition. It has been very painful for many years.

    Reply
  3. Hi Mark,

    Is it unusual when you have scapular winging that muscles in your neck and chest are painful as well? I definitely have a tight pec minor, but as a means to compensate I feel a lot of tension in my neck as well. Scalenes, levator?

    I have some slight winging. I suspect it is due to the weakness and inactivity of the serratus over a long period of time..

    Anyways. Thanks a lot for this article. You explain everything so we’ll it really is amazing. The fact that you put this out there is awesome. Thanks for your work!

    Reply
  4. Hello Mark,

    I’m 14 and I’ve had winging scapula for 3 to 2 years now and I hate how my shoulder blades stick out especially with my shirt off.
    I don’t feel any pain on my shoulder blades.
    Every time I try to pinch my shoulder blades back and to try and hide them I feel like my back muscles are tired and eventually the shoulder blades stick back out and my shoulders round forwards.
    I’m currently using your exercises but do you know how I could fix/reduce how much my shoulder blades stick out by working on my posture or is that not possible?

    Thanks,Afonso

    Reply
    • Hey Afonsa,

      Best thing would be to keep following the suggested exercises.

      Keep in mind – purely pinching the shoulders backwards might make things worse! Aim for more of a back, down and around motion of the scapula (see blog post for more information)

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Hello Mark,

    I injured my supraspinatus tendon on my left side in wreck while skiing. I have been going to PT / visiting an ortho. My pain / inflammation has greatly subsided. However, I have a winged scapula on my left side. Specifically while lowering my left arm in a t motion. It is not evident while static. I have bad posture, addressing that as well though, i’m wondering if my winged scapula existed prior to the blow to my shoulder. As I have for the past few years, had a hot spot on near my spine right of the left scapula, left of the spine. Regardless, is it possible to remedy the winged scapula if it as the result of an acute injury? I’ve been doing exercises daily for the past few weeks.

    Thanks – Hunter

    Reply
    • Hey Hunter,

      If you have the winged scapula due to the recent shoulder issue, then it is definitely possible to fix the winging (provided that you didn’t injure any nerves at the time of injury).

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Hello! Great article, I’ve been struggling with this for years and haven’t been successful at fixing my scapular winging. Question for you – what’s the difference between activating your serratus anterior and exercise Level 1 (C)? They seem very similar.

    I am determined to follow your plan to fix my problem!

    Reply
    • Hey Ryan,

      Pretty much the same except that the Level 1 C exercise requires you to move in and out of the position. (that is, protract then retract back into place)

      Mark

      Reply
  7. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for this amazing post! These have been really good at getting my shoulder blade back in place.

    I have a question about the cause of my scapula winging that kind of hangs over me (happened several years ago now) – I mentioned to doctors after it happened but didn’t really get any answers. My scapula started winging after a night where I had the most intense pain I’ve probably ever felt – went to bed one night then pow, was in agony, felt like my shoulder and arm was being ripped off of my body over about 4 hours, with huge pain round the collar bone and upper arm especially. It was insane. After that, I couldn’t really lift my arm, and usage slowly returned. Any idea what the hell that was? It seemed to be totally out of the blue (only I did have really bad posture from sitting badly at an office job). The pain level and suddenness was really something.

    I don’t know if this is related too, but when I do the exercises I get really achy upper arms (on the underside), is this anything to worry about?

    Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey Em,

      The sudden nature of your pain without an obvious mechanism of injury is interesting.

      It could be due to the particular position you were in that may have placed pressure on some structures (?possibly muscle spasm) in the area of pain.

      In regards to your upper arm pain, there are quite a few structures in that region around the arm pit. Can you pin point the exact area of pain?

      Mark

      Reply
      • Hi Mark,
        I couldn’t find how to leave a comment on the actual article so I’m replying this way.
        Can you tell me, on average, how long does it take to normalize the shoulder blades by doing these exercises?

        Reply
        • Hey Mickey,

          Really hard to say! Too many factors contributing.

          The first thing is being able to engage the serratus anterior to keep that scapula onto the rib cage.

          Once you have this, you should notice improvements. If not – there might be other things that you might need to address

          Mark

          Reply
    • This is exactly how to scapular winging happened to me. Super intense pain one night and then slowly started to go away after a couple weeks. Didn’t notice the winging until I realized I had lost overhead mobility

      Reply
  8. To activate the serratus anterior during the exercices, is this a good sign if I feel something on the scapula area or I need to feel something directly on the muscle?

    Reply
    • Hey Joshua,

      Try to feel the serratus anterior muscle engaging. (I feel that it is good for the mind to muscle connection if anything)

      Remember – this muscles covers the entire under surface of the scapula and wraps around the ribs (under the arm pits and lower)

      Mark

      Reply
  9. Hi Mark, sorry for my bad English I’m from France but thank you for this article, very informative and helpful !
    I have a big issue, I feel nothing when I’m protacting and do the the exercice, I’m putting my shoulder blade forward as much as I can but I feel nothing in the muscle, I’m just feeling something on the area of the shoulder blade…
    How do we know if we are engaging the serratus anterior?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hey Beg,

      You are probably still engaging that Serratus Anterior to an extent.

      But it’s important to feel that muscle!

      Try focusing on pushing your elbows further away from you. Think of it as the shoulder blade “wrapping around” the rib cage.

      Mark

      Reply
  10. hi, mark
    what if is a long thoracic nerve issue, does these exercices fix the ploblem, or only a surgery fix it

    Reply
    • Hey Thiago,

      If the actual nerve is damaged, there may be a limitation on how much you can correct this issue.

      If the nerve is compressed, if you can get rid of the compression, you are more likely to restore more innervation to the serratus anterior, and thus, a better chance to fix your winged scapula.

      Mark

      Reply

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