Experiencing discomfort and pain related to poor posture in the workplace is quite common. Just look around your office, and you will see plenty of people suffering from sore low backs and stiff shoulders. Many lack balanced fitness regimens or have no regimen at all. Rounded shoulder patterns are quite common. You see them everywhere – as you hunch over your keyboard, rounding the neck and shoulders forward, the shoulders rest in internal rotation. Do this every day for 5 hours or more with little or no external shoulder rotation to counterbalance and the result? Tight pectoralis muscles that are locked-short, pulling the head of the humerus forward and forcing the weak rhomboids and trapezius to elongate.
Let’s paint a picture: Larry is a 34 year old accountant. He works a typical nine to five and to help manage stress and ease some upper back tension, Larry goes to yoga 3 times a week. He’s an ex-athlete, and enjoys the dynamic movement and strengthening quality of the vinyasa class. His favourite pose? Chaturanga dandasana, the yogi equivalent of a push-up.
What Larry and many other yoga practitioners ignore is that when done without a focus on external shoulder rotation, chaturanga dandasana targets the already tight pectoralis muscles. You might even notice the inferior edge of your scapula wing right off your back. Spending many hours sitting at a desk, texting or driving around can cause chronically tight pectoralis muscles, creating the perfect scenario for neurovascular compression, amongst other problems.
The Pec Minor: Where is it and What Does it Do?
Let’s look more specifically at the pectoralis minor – it originates from the third, fourth and fifth ribs, inserts onto the medial surface of the coracoid process and lies deep beneath the pectoralis major. To feel the coracoid process, slide your fingers along the shaft of the clavicle (collar bone), moving towards the shoulder (this is roughly where a bra strap would cross). Slide inferiorly off the clavicle about an inch and press your fingertips into the tissues. The coracoid process has a beak like protrusion. If you’re unsure if you’ve properly located it, gently extend your shoulder and the coracoid should pop forward into your fingers. Notice the relationship between your scapula and pec minor.
The pec minor is responsible for depressing and abducting the scapula and elevating the ribs during inhalation. You use this muscle as you take a deep breath, throw a punch and downwardly rotate your scapula. What’s most fascinating about the pec minor is that its strong tendon overlies the brachial plexus, a network of motor and sensory nerves that serve the arm and hand. The subclavian artery and vein that transports blood flow from the neck and shoulder girdle, all the way through to the hands are also in close proximity to pectoralis minor. If the pec minor is tight, it limits the space in which the brachial plexus and subclavian artery run potentially causing tingling, numbness or sharp shooting sensations.
If you suffer from tightness in your pectoralis minor, you might experience difficulty sustaining movement overhead for long periods of time even for the simplest of tasks, like when braiding your hair. More complex poses, such as downward facing dog might feel excruciating. Worst, if this muscle is chronically tight, it might affect your inhalations, resulting in shallow breathing.
So how can you address the issue in this particular tissue? Tune in on Friday for Yoga Tune Up® specific poses that will help address tension and pain in the pectoralis minor.
Enjoyed this article? Read When Your Pec Minor Becomes A Major Pain
Hello Chaturanga! A fave pose of so many yogis because well, this core strengthening move is so satisfying when we feel our spine aligned, Tubular Core on, scapulae depressed, fan-shaped serratus anterior active, quadriceps engaged… and a bonus amazingness could be felt by focusing on external shoulder rotation. I bet all the “Larry’s” in the room would love the strength challenge, the broadening sensation across the clavicle, more ease breathing, while learning about their own body landscape enough to heighten proprioception and bring themselves into optimal alignment. Great article!
Appreciated the description of difficulties we might experience when pectorialis minor is tight such as sustaining movement overhead for long periods of time even for the simplest of tasks. thank you
Poor posture and internally rotated shoulders are easy to spot these days. It’s important to counterbalance these problems and tight pectoralis muscles can play a major role in how our shoulders operate.
It’s amazing that this muscle has such a huge effect and can cause such an imbalance in the shoulders.
I have a new client that has excessive internal rotation and its extremely difficult to externally rotate. I can’t wait to get rolling on the Pec Minor! Thank you.
Well written post on the shoulder issue. A lot of people with “tight” muscles like Larry go to Yoga with hopes of bettering their posture. However, in class, we see Larry and his friends doing all the poses still with same “bad posture.” One of the problems is lack of awareness that they’re doing it with their bodies. Other factor could be that those tight/ forgotten muscles need to be re-introduced, re-trained. We all know a Larry or someone who have problems sustaining those shoulder and arms while braiding their hair.
It is great to focus on not just the muscular relationship of joints, but also other mechanisms in the body including arteries, veins, and sensations that go beyond the joint. Thanks for an excellent article!
Excellent real world examples of why and how to look at shoulder dysfunction and bring more awareness to this significant topic.
Thank you for this article Alexandra. I had now idea how the pectoral minor is affected by rounded shoulders (sitting at a desk, looking at smartphones) and vice versa. Tremendously useful to read your palpating guidelines to locate this “hidden” muscle.
Chaturanga Dandasana is in my opinion one of the most misunderstood yoga poses, as everybody thinks it is a downward (“push-up”) movement, but in fact it is more of a forward movement (into up ward facing dog) where your body “swings” forward in between your no-more-than-90degrees-bend forearms.
I can’t wait to show my co workers (admin staff) this article. I think this will definitely motivate them to start taking mini breaks to help eliminate their pain! Thank you!
Wow thanks for this great article, kind of makes sense when between friend we test our range of motion, we just figured it was flexibility related but actually it’s a tight pec minor that needs to be released by rolling the muscle.
This might explain why I have so much trouble with the chatarungas! I will often feel clicking in one shoulder when I do them, so now I always rest my weight on my knees. I had assumed it was about a weekness in my shoulders, but maybe it’s to do with some tightness in the pec minor too.
This is amazing! I love when the blog posts have anatomy incorporated — it really helps to drive home the point and, especially for teachers, offers further research and understanding on how to help students. Thank you! I’m learning now about how everything in the body affects everything else — and it’s amazing to me that the Pec Minor is affected by the Scapulae. Really cool!
The body is so truly interconnected and this article did a great job of demonstrating how a muscle located on the front of the body next to the rib cage actually is key to the abduction and depression of the scapula located on the back of the body. Many times we lose sight of our true goals when we are training . . . and sometimes we may not even recognize what our goals actually need to be. Thank you!
” Rounded shoulder patterns are quite common. You see them everywhere – as you hunch over your keyboard, rounding the neck and shoulders forward, the shoulders rest in internal rotation. ” – Madame Lariviere is painting the typical student in my class(i am a visual teacher(32 years) and yoga teacher (since a year). Student come in the class with a smart phone in one hand and junk food int the hand. Round shoulder, eyes on a little screen and the mind lost some where in the web. The next generation is here. Tune Up® is the cure for all of… Read more »
Great post highlighting the often overlooked pec minor role in shoulder dysfunction. I am an RMT and have noticed how much more often I am seeing clients with TOS issues due to posture related muscle imbalances. It can be a tricky muscle to get at, but well worth the effort.
Awesome post! So much of yoga is pushing, and strengthening already tight muscles. I like how you gave context of someone who sits all day and has rounded forward shoulders. And I really enjoyed how you explained how to find the muscle; once I extended at the shoulder, it did pop right into my finger like you explained. Thanks again!
Thank you for this awesome article and reminding us how important working external rotation in chaturanga is!
Thank you for this detailed article on pec minor, Alexandra, and outlining how tightness of this muscle inhibits not only movement but also breathing and blood flow.
Great explaination! Now I know the reason for numbness in my arms. It started 20 years ago and NOBODY found the reason. I had also to attend tests in the hospital. After this I gave up and tried to figure it out by myself. My result was, that it has something to do with my bad posture and with working 7 hours or more on my computer. So I started with gymnastic. I changed the activities often and in March 2017 I found the Roll Model Book from Jill Miller in a bookshop. I started with the roll sequences with… Read more »
This is a great post Alexandra!! It really highlights the nerve relationship which I actually did not know about. This just shows us why not every pose is for every body. We need to address these tissues in their natural day to day movement before we crank out 100 chaturangas!
I sit at a desk most of the day and/or drive for my job. It was an eye opener to me when we rolled out our pecs in class after rolling our upper back and shoulder muscles. My pecs were very ‘grumpy’. I felt wonderful after the rolling sequence. Thanks for the great, in depth article!
Thank you for enlightening us on the subject of the pec minor. As you mentioned in your article, shortness in the pec minor due many of our daily neurological habituations, pulls the scapula down and forward. This can lead to a weak lower trap and an unstable scapula. This YTU blog article really ties into how to engage these muscles, including the sensational serratus anterior: https://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2016/06/03/from-small-to-big-three-tools-for-bodysurfing-from-the-pinky-fingers/.
The Pectoralis minor is so often overshadowed by the Pectoralis Major, so it’s great to read a blog showing how important this smaller muscle is. So many athletes find themselves with tingling and numbness as a result of their daily life in front of a computer followed by numerous push ups when they come to the gym. Definitely important to keep this in mind as we try to find balance in our bodies!
Thanks for the above, I sit 40 hours a week at a computer. I haven’t experienced any tingling but its always good to be aware how close various nerves are to muscles and the impact tightness can have. Not only in my body, but in the bodies of students
I suffer from chronically tight pectoralis major muscles from years of working at a desk job and a hobby of vigorous weightlifting. Push-ups and the bench press are my favorite! I had a weightlifting injury a few years ago that resulted in a tear in my pec major–which really increased the tightness. Since discovering Yoga Tune Up and YTU therapy balls, I’ve been able to make a lot of progress on loosening up these muscles and strengthening the opposing muscles to create balance. Great article!
A great refresher on how little muscles have large effects! It is so important to know which muscles lay over nerves to help avoid nerve pain. Also a great reminder on how our muscles no matter how big or small effect our breathing for better or worse. Need to get back to my Dance with Myself to open that whole area up!
I have many clients like the fictional Larry. It can be difficult to convey to students the importance of shoulder complex integrity, because the area is so complex anatomically and biomechanically. I simply took chataranga out of my Sun Salutation unless the class is composed of people with healthy and balanced shoulders- needless to say, we don’t do it often!
As a vinyasa teacher, I’m always looking for new ways to explain the importance of opening up pec minor, especially for my students who sit at a desk all day. Thank you for in the in-depth explanation.
Great detail on the pec minor and how tightness contributes to misalignments and less space for the breath. How easy it is to cultivate this tightness through habitually working in the front body without attention to good shoulder mechanics. Tightness in the pec minor can also limit your ability to stabilize the shoulder joint, especially when weight bearing using the arms and shoulders, which can lead to irritation, inflammation and chronic rotator cuff injuries.
this is a huge problem area for me. I get numbness from my ulnar nerve getting impinged. not sure if its is bracial plexus related or something else. Looking forward to the treatment blog!
Amazing details about the pec minor. I have desk job and I noticed that I hunch over when I get tired of sitting for long periods of time. Now I know what to roll out with my Yoga Tune Up balls do the detailed explanation on how the pec minor works. Thank you for sharing
Great introduction to a chronically gummed up muscle that just about everyone can benefit from knowing about and loosening up! Also critical to know that overuse/misalignment can cause pain all the way down the arm. Thanks.
Fantastic information. It’s amazing how something so simple (like doing your job) can lead to this and we just talked about this today that your “healing” program might not be so healing. It needs some great dissection to make sure that what you are doing to relieve stress, etc. is actually helping in the way that you think it is. Something for us all to ponder.
Also known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome when the pec minor traps the brachial plexus and either having the result of of numbness or tingling which means one or several of the nerves are trapped or people could experience lack of circulation (cold hands) meaning the pec minor may be compressing the subclavian arteries. Such a small stabilizing muscle that we often forget about. Thanks for the reminder!
Wow, for a muscle referred to as minor the pec minor has some major responsibilities. I’ll focus on it more when I breathe.
This is so relevant to my co-workers and clients who are almost all office dwellers, working long hours. Thank you for the clear explanation of the pec minor.
Great article highlighting the relationship between ones habitual daily postures and what happens when those chronic tight muscles continue to get over used keeping “fit” I struggle with Chaturanga Dandasana especially when I have been bent over a massage couch all day and this clear explanation helps explains what being influenced and why, looking forward to the post.Thanks
The human body continues to fascinate me and the more articles i read like this the more i want to learn. never knew that the tingling sensations in my hands or the fatigue i sometimes get from braiding my hair are associated with the pectorals minor. I cringe watching fellow students do chaturanga and so badly want to adjust them. knowledge is key!!!
Great job explaining the pec minor and it’s role in being a key part of our ability to breathe correctly. This post resinated with me because I’ve been working to help release and lengthen my pec minor to help improve my ability to breathe using my diaphragm.
Wow. I really enjoyed this article, and it gave me insight into why I do experience numbness or tingling in my arms and hands from time to time. I knew that it had to do with tightness of a muscle, but wasn’t particularly sure where to really start addressing the issue. Thanks!
I enjoyed the depth that you went into on the pectoralis minor. Another uncommon action the muscle does is aids in breathing. people don’t correlate a tight chest to limited inhalation. Keep up the good work!
Wow, this blog has given me some insight as to what may be ailing my guy in Downward Facing dog! I will investigate. Thank you!
Caring for your body your ligaments is very important people under right posture so much and over time it can cause long-term injuries to other parts of the body tissues and muscles. I wasn’t really aware that something so small as Yogatune up balls tNepalcould help break up tissue for sure scar tissues with assisting in healing I’m so glad that I met such a wonderful community of people with such great knowledge thank you
Thanks for giving that great example of braiding the hair – I just had that issue this morning and now I know why! Plus it’s helpful to take a pose like Chaturanga dandasana and paint the picture of the impact it would have on someone who wasn’t strong or stabilized in the areas they need to be in order to do that pose correctly.
So one of the things that I like about this blog is the fact that it highlights an important point about poor posture and the resulting pain in the shoulders. I personally have overcompensated for the poor posture and now, I believe, I have over extended and need to focus on isolating the adjustment just to rotating the shoulders back.
This is great detail about the Pec Minor. I love the examples you share to make a clear picture.