Coracobrachialis: Learn Your Muscles

The coracobrachialis is an important shoulder stabilizer that helps balance the pull from your deltoids. It can be easily injured, but because of its deep location and relatively small size, many people don’t think to check it out when they have shoulder pain. Here’s more about this relatively unknown, slightly controvercial muscle and how to keep it healthy.

Location

coracobrachialis

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the image.

The origin of the coracobrachialis is on the tip of the coracoid process of the scapula. When you look at a picture of the front of your scapula (the part that is closer to your rib cage), there is a small hook-like bone that comes off the side near the top. That’s the coracoid process. It’s right below the acromion process. Both help stabilize the shoulder joint.

The coracobrachialis inserts opposite the deltoid tuberosity on the humerus. This means that it inserts on the medial border of the humerus, right around the midpoint.

Function

With opposing insertion points, it’s a safe guess that the coracobrachialis balances the deltoids. When looking at the muscle itself, it makes sense then that this muscle is responsible for horizontal flexion and adduction of the humerus at the shoulder. This means that it helps bring your arm straight across your chest, and it helps return your arm to your side after it has lifted. Basically, it brings your arm closer to the midline of your body.

The Debate

It’s not very often that you’re going to see this heading in my anatomy posts. Believe it or not, sometimes people disagree about the exact function and movements of different muscles.

In this case, some people believe this muscle performs shoulder flexion. Shoulder flexion is when your arm moves straight in front of you to reach above your head. Other people believe that the coracobrachialis assists in medial rotation at the shoulder joint. Just for the record, I disagree with both of these ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, these are solid ideas and it’s possible that they’re correct. However, based on how I was trained and how I imagine the muscle moves as it works from insertion to origin, I don’t think that’s correct. To ensure that you got the whole story, I wanted to include this information though.

Common Dysfunction

If you have injured your coracobrachialis, you could feel pain in the upper or middle part of your arm.

According to ePainAssist.com, you could also experience trouble bending the elbow. Here are some other areas where you might feel pain if you have coracobrachialis dysfunction:

  • On the back of your lower arm,
  • In the arm when it is raised overhead,
  • Along the back of the upper arm,
  • In the arm when putting your hand behind your back,
  • Along the back of the hand extending to the middle finger, and
  • In the front of the upper arm almost to the shoulder joint.

Overuse is the primary cause of coracobrachialis dysfunction. This can happen if you’ve had a heavy workout or played a lot of tennis.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you think you have injured your coracobrachialis, contact your doctor. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine necessary for you to recover.

However, if you’re wanting suggestions to maintain the health of this important shoulder-stabilizing muscle, I have a couple suggestions. Because the coracobrachialis isn’t a large primary mover, it’s hard to come up with isolated exercises that exclusively work this muscle. I racked my brain, though, and came up with one good strengthening exercise and one good stretch.

To strengthen this muscle, try Eagle pose. As the arms come toward the midline of the body, the coracobrachialis contracts and shortens.

To stretch this muscle, practice Cactus arms. My favorite way to practice Cactus is on the floor. Come on to your back with your knees bent, and place your heels in line with your SITs bones. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and, from the shoulders, rotate your palms to face the ceiling. It should look like you just told someone their field goal was good.

More Information

For those who are more interested in technical terminology and smaller muscles, I recommend Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. Any time a client comes to me with pain, I use these flash cards.

What’s your favorite way to strengthen your coracobrachialis? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

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