As an athlete, singer, yogi and human I find inhalation to be very near and dear to my heart. I mean, it does help to keep me alive! Thankfully, I have my serratus posterior superior (SPS) to literally help with the heavy lifting.
The SPS is a fan shaped muscle in the upper back and neck that doesn’t get a lot of mention in bodywork and movement circles because it lies beneath its bigger, noisier friends, trapezius and rhomboids. But this little muscle is no less important than those two loud-mouths because its job is to elevate the ribcage during inhalation! Like I said, I like to inhale–maybe I should take better care of this baby.
SPS originates at the spinous processes of C-7 to T-3 and attaches to the posterior surface of ribs 2-5. This area can be a Bermuda Triangle of tension and pain due to overuse and bad position. (Text neck anyone…?)
In addition to the trapezius and rhomboids–which run superficial to the SPS–the upper transversospinalis muscles and erector spinae, splenius capitis and cervicis all run deep to the SPS. Levator scapula is tucked up under the medial border/superior angle of scapula.
Adhesions and trigger points in the serratus posterior superior can cause a deep ache in the upper back and behind/under the shoulder blade and can also refer pain and numbness down into the arms and hands.
Accessing the SPS can be tricky because it’s buried by muscles–trapezius, rhomboids–and bones–scapula. Never fear, Yoga Tune Up® has plenty of techniques to help you improve your breathing:
● Use Epaulet Arm Circles to warm up the upper back and shoulders.
● Raise The Chalice takes the shoulder blades into protraction and depression. Shoulder blade protraction actively lengthens the rhomboids and upper traps. That spread of the upper back and depression of shoulder blades takes the SPS along for the ride.
● Reverse Crucifix, like Raise the Chalice, lengthens traps and rhomboids. The gentle force of gravity created by the prone/arm position makes space across the back and the easy neck traction created by bringing the forehead to the floor allow all of the SPS attachments–Spinous Processes C-7 to T-3 and ribs 2 to 5–freedom to release.
Of course there are also many YTU Therapy Ball techniques that would work beautifully to access the SPS. Generally, any ball work that targets the region of the C-7 to T-3 (ball positions 1-3-ish) would work for the SPS.
● Chug/Cross fiber with balls together at the spine just below C-7 to fluff the surface layers
● Trapezius Tamer works to further tenderize the surface covering
● Hug and Lean (Fake Make Out?) and Protract/ Retract with balls on upper rhomboids –with the underside of the shoulder blade exposed– gets a little deeper and more specific to SPS attachments at ribs 2-5.
● And the pin and stretch of Snow Angel Arms with the balls in the T-1 to T-3 region helps to break up adhesions and trigger points.
The most important thing to keep in mind with ball work on the SPS is to take time and allow the tissues to surrender in order to get deep enough to actually access the targeted area.
Whatever your daily activities–running, biking, yoga-ing, texting, facebook stalking–you need to stay inspired by giving your serratus posterior superior a little well deserved attention and love.