Supraspinatus: Learn Your Muscles

The supraspinatus is one of those muscles that are part of the enigmatic rotator cuff. 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 supraspinatus, which we will focus on today, helps move your arm straight out to the side.



Thanks to Wikipedia for the image.

The origin of the supraspinatus is on a landmark called the supraspinous fossa. This is a hollow point just above the spine of the scapula. The exact point of origin is on the medial two-thirds of this groove.

Supraspinatus inserts on the superior surface (the top) of the greater tubercle of the humerus. The greater tubercle of the humerus is the bony nodule that is further from the midline of your body.

So, this muscle reaches from the part of your shoulder blade above the scapular spine that is closest to your spinal column and inserts on the very furthest point of your humerus.


The main purpose of the supraspinatus is to abduct the humerus at the shoulder joint. As you may recall, abduction is when you move a body part further away from the midline of your body. When you lift your arm straight to the side, this is abduction. The supraspinatus abducts the humerus for about the first 10 degrees, then the deltoid muscles take over.

Since the supraspinatus is one of the rotator cuff muscles, it’s also essential for stabilization of the glenohumeral joint. The glenohumeral joint is a fancy name for your shoulder joint.

Common Dysfunction

Anyone who has ever torn a rotator cuff muscle will tell you that there are a number of ways to injure these muscles. And, according to, the supraspinatus is the most commonly torn rotator cuff muscle.

Frozen shoulders, which sometimes involve rotator cuff tears, are another indicator of a possible supraspinatus issue. You can also injure your supraspinatus if you dislocate your shoulder.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you believe that you have injured or torn your supraspinatus, 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 are wanting to improve the functionality of this muscle, I have some suggestions.

When selecting exercises, keep in mind the action of this muscle. It lifts your arm to the side for the first 10 degrees. Therefore, any time you move your arms away from the midline of your body, you will engage the supraspinatus initially. This happens in yoga poses like Warrior 2 and Triangle pose. In Pilates, we find this muscle action in Spine twist and Saw.

To stretch the supraspinatus, you need to adduct your humerus. This is a little tricky because your arms don’t normally come toward the midline of your body. One great yoga pose I can think of that does have this action is Eagle pose. Practicing these twisting arms is a great way to stretch your supraspinatus.

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 supraspinatus 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.


  1. Tom Kirkle on March 2, 2018 at 8:30 am

    If you’re having rotator cuff problems, give me a ring to set up a massage and Gua Sha session. Very effective and should be considered before a visit to the doctor and possible surgery.

    • Sarah Stockett on March 2, 2018 at 9:12 am

      Thanks, Tom! I have never heard of Gua Sha before.