The serratus posterior superior and serratus posterior inferior are muscles that you may not have heard of–until you started researching what muscle could cause pain when you breathe and low back pain. These two muscles are working every breath you take and, if you don’t treat them right, each breath will greet you with stabbing pain. Here’s everything you need to know to relieve your pain right now and stay pain-free!
There are two serratus posterior muscles: serratus posterior superior and serratus posterior inferior. These muscles are commonly known for their help with breathing, so you might think that their dysfunction would only lead to inhibited breathing.
False! These muscles also contain a secret–trigger points.
Trigger points are spots of tightness or tension that can cause pain throughout your body.
So, even if you feel like all your muscles are working to help you breathe normally, you might still have serratus posterior-related issues.
The trigger points within these muscles might be sending pain to other areas of your body. This is called referred pain.
Here’s what you need to know about the serratus posterior muscles including how to keep them healthy!
You don’t have to struggle with back pain–I can help! Download The Secret to Immediate + Lasting Pain Relief to help you get rid of pain anywhere on your body.
Where Are the Serratus Posterior Muscles?
We have two serratus posterior muscles: the serratus posterior superior and the serratus posterior inferior. You might remember that superior means “above.” So, of the two muscles shown in the image, the serratus posterior superior is the top one.
Serratus Posterior Superior
The medical origin from my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards says the origin of the serratus posterior superior is on the lower portion of the ligamentum nuchae and spinous processes of the 7th cervical and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd thoracic vertebrae.
The ligamentum nuchae is a ligament composed of tendons and fascia that runs between the muscles of the neck and covers the spines of the C1-C6 vertebrae. Spinous processes is another name for the bony part of your spine that you can feel on your back.
In plain English, the origin of the serratus posterior superior is along your spine, from the bottom of your neck down 4 vertebrae into the top of your rib cage.
The insertion of the serratus posterior superior is on the top edges of the 2nd-5th ribs over near where the scapula sits.
In plain English, the muscle inserts right along the top, inside edge of your shoulder blade.
Serratus Posterior Inferior
The origin of the serratus posterior inferior is on the spinous processes of the 11th and 12th thoracic and 1st, 2nd, 3rd lumbar vertebrae. It also originates on the thoracolumbar fascia.
In plain English, the origin of the serratus posterior inferior is along your spine, from the bottom vertebra of your rib cage down 4 vertebrae into the top of your lower back.
Serratus posterior inferior inserts on the bottom edges of the lower 4 ribs. This means the muscle creates a sort of “V” from your low back up to your ribs.
What Do The Serratus Posterior Muscles Do?
The function of the serratus posterior superior is to elevate the ribs when you inhale. This makes this muscle particularly important for breathing.
The serratus posterior inferior is also important for breathing but in a different way. When this muscle engages, it helps to gently tug on the back of the lower ribs. This helps counteract the pull of the diaphragm when you breathe.
So, the serratus posterior superior helps your rib cage expand as you take a deep breath in and the serratus posterior inferior helps stabilize the bottom of the rib cage as you deeply exhale.
These muscles are essential for deep breathing.
What Happens When the Serratus Posterior Muscles Don’t Work Correctly?
One common dysfunction of the serratus posterior superior is difficulty breathing. Since this muscle is particularly important for a deep inhale, its dysfunction means that your breathing may be inhibited.
Dysfunction of the serratus posterior inferior will most likely show up as low back pain. It can be caused by strain to the muscle or even from something as simple as sleeping on a bad mattress.
What Can You Do to Keep The Serratus Posterior Muscles Healthy?
If you think you have injured your serratus posterior muscles, contact your doctor. He or she can order the necessary imaging, therapy, and medicine necessary for you to recover as quickly as possible.
However, if you’re looking for a way to keep these muscles healthy, I have some suggestions–you need to strengthen and stretch these muscles. Here’s what I recommend.
How to strengthen both serratus posterior muscles:
To strengthen both serratus posterior muscles, I suggest you practice mindful breathing. As you breathe, make sure to inhale into your whole rib cage, including the back and sides.
- Take a comfortable seat. Feel your SITs bones (those bones you feel on your bottom when you’re sitting) press down into whatever you’re sitting on.
- Place your hands around the bottom of your ribs so your thumbs are pointing toward your spine and your fingers point toward your belly.
- Feel your bottom ribs. You want to have your bottom ribs angled so they point straight down at your hips and pelvis. (Sometimes, the ribs will angle forward like they’re aiming for your lap. This is especially true for folks with low back pain. If this sounds like you, try to engage your abdominal muscles to angle your rib cage straight down to your hips.)
- Breathe in through your nose and notice how your rib cage fills up.
- You want to actually feel your bottom ribs move when you breathe. This way, you know you’re breathing deep enough.
- You also want to feel your rib cage expand three-dimensionally. This means you should feel your ribs open to the front, expand to the sides, and even expand to the back. (Because of the spine, there’s less opportunity for movement in the back of the rib cage, but there should still be some.)
- Exhale through pursed lips as if you’re blowing out candles.
- Envision a midpoint in your abdomen that is totally centered top to bottom, front to back, and left to right.
- Feel all the muscles between your ribs and hips gently hug toward this central spot. (Make sure to avoid any sort of squeezing or gripping feelings.)
- Keep breathing.
How to stretch the serratus posterior superior:
How to stretch the serratus posterior inferior:
To stretch the serratus posterior inferior, practice Pilates rib cage placement. When this muscle gets tight, it can pull on the ribs.
This pull might angle the ribs slightly forward, giving them the appearance of popping open in the front. By engaging the muscles on the front of your body, you can create a stretch for tight muscles on the back of the body.
Trigger Point Therapy
Both muscles are in great locations for trigger point therapy because they are very deep within the body. Any knots or adhesions can cause dysfunction and pain. By having a therapist practice trigger point therapy, you can relieve some pain and tension in your body.
Although this won’t help with strengthening these muscles, it’s a great way to get a deep stretch.
Want to Learn More?
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.
Also, the image that I used above came from Kenhub.com, a leader in anatomy. This is a great website for learning more about your body, and they often have some of the best images of your muscles. Here’s the link to their information about the serratus posterior muscles.
If you’re in pain, I can help! Download your FREE copy of The Secret to Immediate + Lasting Pain Relief. Plus, I’ll send you my latest tips and tricks to stay pain-free a few times a month.