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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Muscle Monday: Supraspinatus

The supraspinatus muscle is found in the shoulder and is one of the more famous muscles that make up part of the rotator cuff (yes, it’s rotator cuff and not rotary cup). It gets its fame because if you’ve ever had a rotator cuff tear or rotator cuff surgery, this is probably the muscle that was giving you grief!

The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that do very important work deep in your shoulder. They live deep to your deltoid, so you don’t see these guys when you flex in the mirror and therefore, they often get skipped when working out in the gym.

While not all rotator cuff tears involve the supraspinatus, it is the most commonly torn muscle of this group of four. There are several reasons for this, but one reason is it’s location and another reason is that it doesn’t get great blood supply naturally, which is why sometimes partial tears won’t necessarily heal on their own.

If the shoulder is tight, or if rotator cuff muscles are not performing as they should because they don’t get exercised properly, you can develop a condition called impingement syndrome in your shoulder, and the tendon of the supraspinatus is one of the structures that can become impinged.

What’s the point of knowing all of this??

Well, if the supraspinatus becomes irritated due to being impinged, it will become inflamed (tendonitis) and with time, this can become chronic in nature and lead to a degenerative tear. Depending on the extent of the tear or degeneration of the tissue, surgery may be your only choice to fix it. This is why we recommend a Total Body Wellness Assessment prior to starting a new gym program because underlying weakness of these muscles can be identified and addressed before they become an issue from lifting too much weight overhead.

What type of person do we typically see having problems with this muscle?

- Anyone who does overhead activities such as:

o Throwing sports

o Swimming

o Overhead weightlifting

o Climbing

o Repetitive or prolonged reaching, pulling, pushing or lifting at home or work

Here are some other facts about the supraspinatus:

- It originates on the back side of the scapula (shoulder blade), in an area known as the suprascapular fossa. It then runs along the upper portion of the scapula and out to the humerus where it inserts on the greater tubercule of the humerus (or the bump on the outside of your shoulder).

- It is innervated by the

suprascapular nerve.

- Its function (along with the other rotator cuff muscles) is to help control the ball and socket joint of the shoulder by helping to keep the head of the humerus (the ball) centered within the glenoid fossa of the scapula (the socket). Its other function is the help abduct the arm, which means raising the arm out to the side of your body.

- Pain from this muscle is often felt on the outside of your shoulder and upper arm, therefore many people assume it’s their deltoid that is bothering them (it can be sneaky…)

- It is a slow healer! So, catching it early is SUPER important!! If surgery is necessary, it usually requires 4 months of very regular rehab and is not back to “normal” for about a year.

Moral of the supraspinatus story: Don’t wait until it’s too late to see a PT when you develop shoulder pain! And if you are starting a new exercise program, contact us for a Total Body Wellness Assessment so we can identify any issues that might lead to injury of this muscle in the future.

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