Subscapularis: Learn Your Muscles

The subscapularis is one of those enigmatic rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff can be the root of all evil for some people, so this month is dedicated to learning about this troublesome structure and how to keep it healthy.

There are four muscles in the rotator cuff. They are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. The subscapularis covers the whole anterior surface of your scapula and allows you to medially rotate your arm. This movement is essential for activities like scratching your back or reaching into a back pocket.



Thanks to Learn Muscles for the image.

The origin of the subscapularis is the entire anterior surface of the subscapular fossa. Basically, the origin is a line on the underside of your scapula along the edge of the scapula that is closer to your spine.

Subscapularis inserts on the front of the lesser tubercle of the humerus. The lesser tubercle is the smaller bump on the top of the humerus that is closer to the midline of your body.

So, the subscapularis runs across the whole underside of your scapula and inserts on the front of the most internal part of your humerus.


The main function of the subscapularis is to medially rotate the humerus. When you medially rotate, you rotate inward or toward the midline of your body. You may notice that this medial rotation is in opposition to the lateral rotation that infraspinatus and teres minor perform.

As with all the other rotator cuff muscles, the subscapularis also helps to stabilize the shoulder joint. Its job is to keep the head of the humerus anchored so that it’s not pulled upward by the deltoid, biceps, and long head of the triceps.

Common Dysfunction

The subscapularis can be injured just as easily as any of the other rotator cuff muscles. Frequently, though, injury happens by twisting your arm too far behind your back. This can happen while being restrained, wrestling and goofing around with your kids, or being too aggressive in a yoga hold.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you believe that you have injured or torn your subscapularis, contact your doctor. Your doctor can order the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine necessary for your recovery.

However, if you feel like you have a muscle tightness or weakness and want to improve the functionality of this muscle, I have some suggestions.

To strengthen the subscapularis, practice reverse namaste. In this yoga hand position, your hands are in prayer position behind your back. When you give this a try, you’ll notice whether you have subscapularis issues!

To stretch the subscapularis, practice Eagle pose and Gomukhasana. In Gomukhasana, pay attention to the upper arm because that is the one that should feel the subscapularis stretch.

More Information

I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. I love this book as a quick go-to guide for easy to understand anatomy.

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, I consulted David Keil’s article on the subscapularis at

What’s your favorite rotator cuff exercise? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.