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What Is the Serratus Anterior?

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  • Written By: John Lister
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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The serratus anterior is a muscle that runs on each side of the upper torso between the upper ribs and the scapula, also known as the shoulder blade. You can locate the muscle by placing a hand in your armpit and then moving it straight down your side. It is commonly known as the boxer’s muscle.

The serratus anterior takes its name from serratus, the Latin word for saw. This refers to the appearance of the row of fleshy “teeth” which attach it to each of the ribs. Anterior simply means front. This distinguishes it from the serrate posterior muscles which connect the spine to the ribs.

The muscle is commonly nicknamed the “boxer's muscle.” This is because it does most of the work when the shoulder blade is pulled forwards and around the rib cage, as happens when a boxer throws a punch. Many boxers believe developing the muscle can increase the power they are able to pack into a punch. There are several exercises, using both medicine balls and cables attached to weights, which can be particularly beneficial to this muscle.

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Another function of the serratus anterior is to stabilize the shoulder blade, particularly when it is pulled forward. One example of this is the movement the body makes during a press-up. Another function is to help move the shoulder blade up, for example when shrugging your shoulders. However, the muscle plays a comparatively weaker role in this function. The serratus anterior can also help “anchor” the shoulder blade, which can aid in movement of the humerus, or upper arm bone.

One of the most common injuries relating to the serratus anterior is known as scapula alata, or winged scapula. This can be caused either by general weakening of the muscle, or when the long thoracic nerve which passes through it is impinged, causing the muscle to be weakened or even paralyzed. This results in the shoulder blade moving away from the rib cage, meaning that it protrudes backward like a wing even when the arm is by the patient’s side. In severe cases, the weakening of the muscle can even restrict movement of the arm. Winged scapula can be more common and less problematic among younger children whose muscles have not yet fully developed.

Damage to the serratus anterior can also cause pain which appears to be felt in the lower shoulder blade. This pain is most pronounced whilst breathing in. While relatively harmless, this can be particularly worrying as the pain can mimic that felt during a heart attack or when suffering a lung condition.

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Discuss this Article

anon353534
Post 7

Can I live a normal life after having my lattsimus dosari and serratus muscle removed?

anon352002
Post 6

I had my latissimus dosari and serratus anterior muscle in my left arm removed, due to a hemangioma tumor. After this muscle removal, will it cause any harm to my hand, arm and shoulder?

orangey03
Post 5

@Oceana - It depends on how much swimming you’ve been doing. If you are doing a lot of it every single day, then you haven’t given your muscles any time to recover. That could result in constant soreness.

Soreness does usually go away as your body becomes accustomed to doing certain things, but only if you have days of rest so that it can repair itself. Doing any activity every day for long periods of time could cause you chronic pain.

My college roommate is a professional swimmer, and his serratus anterior is sore a lot. This is a common problem with swimmers who are athletes, because they sometimes swim miles a day to train, and their pore muscles just don’t get the break that they need.

Oceana
Post 4

I always thought the muscle along our sides toward our backs was called the trapezius, but I was mistaken about its location. I’m glad I read this article today and got the correct term for it, because I’m going to my doctor tomorrow about some persistent soreness I’ve been having around what I now know is my serratus anterior!

I have been swimming a lot lately, and at first, I thought that the soreness might just be from all the motions I’ve been doing in the pool. However, it’s been going on for about a month now, and the pain has not gone away. When your body gets used to doing a certain exercise, isn’t it supposed to stop getting sore from it?

cloudel
Post 3

I have always heard that scapular winging is normal in little kids. I remember my shoulder blades seeming extra bony when I was a child, and even recall looking at them in the mirror and imagining I might just be growing wings!

I grew out of this, though. Now, my shoulder blades don’t stick out that far.

I have seen winged scapula in my nephew, though. His is really prominent, and my sister asked the doctor if it was normal. He told her that as his muscles became more developed, the condition would go away.

OeKc05
Post 2

I had some serratus anterior muscle pain after starting a new workout. It was designed to incorporate many moves that boxers do, but it didn’t involve wearing gloves or punching anything.

I could feel the burn in this muscle about ten minutes into the workout. I thought this must mean it was working, so I continued.

The workout lasted thirty minutes, and though I felt fatigued, I didn’t get the soreness til the next day. I had no idea how much I had overworked my serratus anterior muscle until I woke up the next morning.

All I could do was take ibuprofen to reduce the swelling and inflammation and wait for the soreness to subside. The ibuprofen made the pain manageable, but the soreness didn’t fully go away for about three days.

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