Are you sure you’re in the scapular plane?

Posted on December 30, 2013

(Last Updated On: April 1, 2016)

From an upcoming, much longer, post detailing my visit to Stanford University’s Clinical Anatomy Lab, where I worked with cadavers:

Two common ways people go about alleviating shoulder pain is 1) Pulling the shoulders down and back and 2) Working the arms in the scapular plane.  I’ve indirectly covered why the “Down and back” cue is poor. Examples here and hereand I’ll write directly about it in the future.

The instructor and I went over the scapula and the planes of motion, and something else regarding these cues clicked in my brain. In a normal scapular alignment, the scapular plane is 30 degrees from the midline. Essentially, you lift your arms in a V motion.

Scapular Plane

However, focus on pulling your shoulders down and back and you change where the scapular plane is. It moves from 30 degrees to however far back you’re pulling your scapulae.

Scapular Plane with green lines

"Shoulders back."

“Shoulders back.”

Per the links above, most people don’t need more scapular retraction, which is what happens when people pull their shoulders back. Next, the combination of telling people to pull their shoulders back and work them in the scapular plane is likely causing the person to not work the arm in the scapular plane, because you’re changing where their scapular plane is.


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Posted in: Pain, Shoulder Pain