Teres Major: Learn Your Muscles

The teres major seems like it should be part of the rotator cuff muscles, but it isn’t. Still, its health is essential because it is a neighbor to several rotator cuff muscles and even shares functions with them. Here’s more about this muscle that somehow didn’t get invited to be part of the rotator cuff group.


teres major and teres minor

Thanks to Yoganatomy for the image.

According the Flash Anatomy Flash Cards, the technical origin of the teres major is on the dorsal surface of the inferior angle of the scapula on the lower third of the scapular axillary border. Translated in to plain English, the origin is on the bottom third of the outside edge of the scapula that is closest to your spinal column.

Teres major inserts on the medial lip of the intertubercular sulcus of the humerus. Intertubercular means between the greater and lesser tubercles of the humerus, and a sulcus is a groove. You might know this groove by a different name–the bicipital groove. Of course, you may not have heard of that either.


The teres major has several actions. It:

  • adducts the humerus (brings your arm toward your midline),
  • medially rotates the humerus (rotates it internally, toward your midline), and
  • extends the humerus (reaches your arm behind your body).

Although teres major performs all of these functions, Yoganatomy.com says that this muscle is most commonly used in yoga practice to stabilize the shoulder during inversions.

Common Dysfunction

The teres major can be injured by sharply jerking your arm, like when flinging an object. This is, of course, just one way you can injure this muscle. Trying to catch yourself as your falling is another way you could injure this muscle.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you ever think that you have torn or greatly injured your teres major, please contact your doctor. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine to help you heal.

If you haven’t injured this muscle and are simply looking for suggestions on how to keep the teres major strong and supple, I have some suggestions.

To strengthen the teres major, you can follow Yoganatomy.com’s suggestion and practice arm balances. Keep in mind that you don’t have to pop up into a handstand to practice an arm balance. A tight Downward facing dog will do the trick, or you can try Crow pose.

For those who are a little less adventurous, try simply clasping your hands behind your back. Then, reach your hands away from your tailbone. This should create a stretch for the front of your chest by engaging the teres major.

To stretch the teres major, reach your arms toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other. Make sure to keep your arms relatively close together to maximize the stretch. You can find this action in yoga poses such as Warrior 1, Crescent lunge, and Warrior 3.

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 teres major at Yoganatomy.com.

What’s your favorite way to strengthen your teres major? 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.