The upper body works because it provides stability for the body and motor-sensory functions to the arms, neck, shoulders, and chest. The muscles surrounding each body section have different roles and outputs that have specific jobs for body functionality. For the chest body area, the various muscles are there to support the shoulders and arms while protecting the chest cavity and the internal organs inside. Some of the different chest muscles even support the internal organs and the rest of the muscles. One of those muscles is known as the serratus anterior muscle. Today’s article looks at this muscle, how trigger points affect the serratus anterior muscle, and various actions to manage trigger points along the serratus anterior. We refer patients to certified providers who provide different techniques in pain therapies associated with trigger points to aid many suffering from pain-like symptoms along the serratus anterior muscle along the ribcage. We encourage patients by referring them to our associated medical providers based on their examination when it is appropriate. We designate that education is a great solution to asking our providers profound and complex questions at the patient’s request. Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., notes this information as an educational service only. Disclaimer
Have you been experiencing pain in your sides? Do you notice that your shoulders feel stiff when rotating backward? Or are you experiencing any cardiovascular disorders that are causing you pain? Pain can come in many forms and affect a person differently, as most of these symptoms are associated with trigger points affecting the serratus anterior muscle along the side of the ribs. The serratus anterior muscles work in the body because this muscle is located deep within the scapula (shoulder blades) and the pectoral muscles. Some of the functions that the serratus anterior provides are that it helps pull the shoulder blades forward around the thorax by allowing anteversion and protraction of the arms.
A great example is when a boxer is throwing a punch. This motor action is done with the long thoracic nerve. The long thoracic nerve originated from the C-5 and C-6 regions of the cervical spine and is the motor nerve for the serratus anterior muscle to allow an anterolateral motion for the shoulder blades that allows arm elevation. Another function of the serratus anterior is that it helps lift the ribs and provide assistance with respiration. The serratus anterior muscle also helps protect the side of the ribcage.
The serratus anterior muscle and the long thoracic nerve work hand-in-hand to provide motor function to the arms but can succumb to various injuries that can cause the development of trigger points or myofascial pain syndrome in the anterior serratus muscle. According to Dr. Travell, M.D.’s book, “Myofascial Pain & Dysfunction,” trigger points may be activated when the serratus anterior muscle has been overused and strained from excessive exercises like prolonged running, pushups, or heavy weight lifting or even extreme coughing from respiratory diseases. Other studies reveal that trigger points affecting the serratus anterior muscle can cause radiating pain along the anterior chest wall that can mimic radiculopathy and often be confused with chronic mechanical neck pain, instability in the glenohumeral, and even shoulder impingement syndrome. Trigger points are often difficult to diagnose due to the referred pain in the affected muscle. The various factors that contribute to the development of trigger points can be simple, like an overused muscle or even a slightly poor posture stance that can cause an imbalance in the body.
Have you been dealing with pain in the side of your ribs? What about experiencing stiffness or pain when throwing a punch? Do you feel any aches or soreness when adjusting your posture? These symptoms you are experiencing could contribute to the development of trigger points affecting the serratus anterior muscle. The serratus anterior covers the side of the ribcage and lies deep within the scapula and pectoral muscle. This muscle allows the motor function to the arms as it pulls the scapula forward around the thorax when someone throws a punch. However, when the muscle is overused, it can develop trigger points along the serratus anterior muscle and mimic chronic issues in the chest cavity. This causes referred pain to travel from the side of the ribs down to the hand, causing pain-like symptoms to the ring and pinky fingers. Fortunately, various treatments help manage trigger points in the serratus anterior muscle. The video above shows where the trigger points are located in the serratus anterior and how to release the trigger points from the affected muscle to relieve the pain and manage trigger points from returning to the muscle.
When the serratus anterior is affected by trigger points, many people will often feel pain along their sides and complain about their chest hurting for an unknown reason. When this happens, they would be referred to a pain specialist like a chiropractor or a massage therapist to manage trigger points associated with the serratus anterior through various techniques. Studies reveal that techniques like intramuscular neural distribution of the serratus anterior muscle can help reduce the effects of trigger points in the affected muscle to reduce pain-like symptoms. Other methods like thoracic spinal manipulation, dry-needling, acupuncture, or stretching the muscle group can help loosen the stiff muscles and lower trigger points from forming. However, other actions that many people should consider are modifying or avoiding strenuous activities that can reactivate the serratus anterior muscle trigger points. Even when the person is sleeping, putting a pillow under to support the arm can prevent the scapula from falling forward.
The serratus anterior muscle is located at the side of the ribs and is deep within the scapula (the shoulder blades) and the poster muscles. The serratus anterior muscle works with the long thoracic nerve by providing motor function to the arms by allowing anterolateral motion. This allows the individual to throw a punch in a boxing match while lifting the ribs and assisting with respiration. When the serratus anterior muscle succumbs to injuries or has been overused, it can develop into trigger points and cause various issues affecting the body’s chest cavity. Trigger points are treatable through multiple therapies that can manage trigger points while reducing the pain effects rendered in the serratus anterior muscles. These therapies return mobility and motor function to the arms and the serratus anterior muscles.
Bautista, Alexander, et al. “Serratus Anterior Muscle Pain Syndrome: A Diagnostic Conundrum.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 11 Feb. 2017, academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/18/8/1600/2990174?login=false.
Long, Kirsten, and Forshing Lui. “Anatomy, Thorax, Long Thoracic Nerve.” In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL), StatPearls Publishing, 31 July 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535396/.
Lung, Kirsten, et al. “Anatomy, Thorax, Serratus Anterior Muscles – NCBI Bookshelf.” In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL), StatPearls Publishing, 7 Oct. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531457/.
Travell, J. G., et al. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual: Vol. 1:Upper Half of Body. Williams & Wilkins, 1999.
Yi, Kyu-Ho, et al. “Intramuscular Neural Distribution of the Serratus Anterior Muscle: Regarding Botulinum Neurotoxin Injection for Treating Myofascial Pain Syndrome.” Toxins, MDPI, 11 Apr. 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9033065/.
The information herein on "Trigger Points Affecting The Serratus Anterior" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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