Pectoralis Minor: Learn Your Muscles

The pectoralis minor doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal to your body, but it is. Although the pectoralis minor is mostly know as the only anterior scapular stabilizer, it also is an important neighbor. If your pectoralis minor is dysfunctional, it can prevent your serratus anterior from working correctly. This can cause a winging scapula or glenohumeral dysfunction.

Here’s more about this important anterior muscle.

Location

pectoralis minor
Thanks to the University of Washington Radiology for the image.

The origin for the pectoralis minor is on the anterior surfaces of 3rd, 4th, and 5th ribs near the costal cartilages. Costal cartilage is the cartilage that connects the sternum to the rib.

The insertion for the pectoralis minor is on the coracoid process of the scapula. Although we think of our scapula (shoulder blade) as being on our back, it is a rather odd structure that also runs through our body (to help create the shoulder socket). There is a portion of the scapula, the coracoid process, that is visible on the front of our body. It is located approximately under the end of your clavicle (collarbone).

Function

The pectoralis minor depresses scapula and causes downward rotation of the scapula. It is the only anterior muscle to stabilize the scapula. However, if it is dysfunctional, it can be a leading cause of a misplaced scapula.

Common Dysfunction

A weak or tight pectoralis minor can cause some funky shoulder blade placement. On one hand, if the muscle is tight, it may lock the scapula down in a depressed position. It could also cause the scapula to have downward rotation.

On the other hand, it can be a cause of winging (when the bottom edge of the scapula peels away from the back), and its dysfunction can inhibit the serratus anterior from performing upward rotation of the scapula. When this happens, it’s called glenohumeral dysfunction.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you believe you have sprained, torn, or injured this muscle, please visit your doctor. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine needed to help you recover quickly.

If your issue is minor (like a winging scapula) and you want to restore health and function yourself, here are some exercises.

  • Use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball. Feel free to roll around to break up any tight spots or fascial adhesions. I recommend standing and rolling on a wall. It sort of feels odd because you’re so close to the wall, but it’s a lot easier than trying to do this while on your stomach on the floor. Just make sure to keep your arm straight by your side while you roll.
  • Hit the gym. Although a dumbell fly is most noted for building pectoralis major, pectoralis minor does get challenged.

This muscle is rather challenging to work by itself. It works as part of a group to stabilize the scapula, and it’s the next door neighbor to the pectoralis major. Personally, I recommend that you roll to loosen the area then be mindful of your shoulder blade placement as you perform pectoralis major strengthening exercises like Push ups or Sun salutations.

More Information

I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain.

Here’s a link to buy them on Amazon. If you purchase them from this link, I earn a small commission.

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

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

2 comments

  1. Great advice on ball massage for the pec minor! A tight, shortened pec minor can be the result of forward/rounded tilt of the shoulders caused by a slouched posture (e.g., always looking at your cell phone or in a downward direction). This also often causes tension in the trapezius and levator scapula muscles in the back of the shoulder.

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