This is an oldie but goodie from 2018. The topic came up again recently so…
Today’s focus is on your wings and how they work. Specifically, the Scapula and its muscle attachments.
By now you have likely noticed how interrelated the parts of the body are when creating your best voice function. The Scapula (also known as shoulder blade or wing bone) are essential for body alignment, balance, and with its adjacent muscles the shoulder blades can make or break your potential for ribcage expansion. Actually, you can consider this post “Breathing for Voice Use” part two.
The Scapula are paired bones that connect your upper arm to your clavicle. The muscles that attach to the scapula are responsible for rotating and shifting the scapula in many ways allowing the arms to function adequately. While I will briefly describe the major muscle groups involved in the scapular movement, it is most helpful for voice users to think of the overall function here. To that end, I refer to the entire area as the wings.
Serratus Anterior is a stabilizing muscle for the scapula. It originates from the first eight ribs and connects to the scapula along two borders. It works to help rotate the scapula in all directions and is primarily related to forward movements such as pushing.
The Rhomboids stabilize the medial border of the scapula and help them retract towards each other and lower down the back. This movement has the effect of also causing the clavicle to reposition and the allowing for an upward expansion of the ribcage. It is this particular muscular relationship that can make the wings crucial to efficient breath use. The rhomboids enable the strength in arm motions occurring forward and up such as throwing or swimming. It is a major player in body stability and voice body alignment.
The Trapezius is typically described in relation to its function as upper, lower and middle. For our purposes, I am going to treat it as one unit. The trapezius provides further stability for the rotation and retraction of the scapula strengthening some of the function of the rhomboids. The Trapezius extends upwards into the neck and downwards into the mid-spine. It provides additional support for arm movement.
The Levator Scapulae attached the scapula to the cervical spine and allows you to isolate the movement of the scapula such as when raising one shoulder at a time. This muscle works in close relation to the sternocleidomastoid and other musculatures of the neck that we will be visiting in future posts. Suffice it to say that tensions in your neck can and do affect your voice. Tension in the levator scapulae can prevent adequate rotation of the scapula, and those inhibit stability and costal breath function.
So, that is a brief description of the main components of your wings.
Why should we care?
The full range of motion of your wings allows your upper torso to rotate and expand in such a way that the full expansion of your ribs can proceed efficiently. Tensions and limitations in your wings will impede ribcage expansion and refer tension to other muscle groups.
If that isn’t enough of a reason consider that your wings are in opposition and balance with your hips in the creation of stability, balance, and alignment of your body. It might not be obvious, but we are designed for motion, not stillness. The heaviest single part of this body is on top, the head. Not generally a smart design but the sequence and alignment of our paired, articulating joints and their muscle groups keep us upright and dynamic. By dynamic, I mean poised and ready for movement. When this body is in balance, it breathes better. Importantly, the reduction of unnecessary tension always improves voice function.
Okay, Gina, I care about my wings but what should I do about it?
Many of us have alignment issues and tensions that are generalized as “bad posture.” Also, since so many of us work in seated positions, our wings tend to suffer from muscle weakness and imbalance. Luckily for us, there are great exercises that can help us strengthen and realign our wings. I will be posting a short video next week on the basic 5 – my favorite 5 exercises for wing strength and flexibility. In the meantime, try this simple one.
- Face a wall. Hold your hands against the wall with your arms bent while keeping your back and neck straight.
- In this position, imagine you are going to push the wall away but do not straighten your arms. You should feel your wings engage (mostly in the rhomboids). Hold for 5 seconds.
- Release the position, the take a couple of breaths before you repeat.
- Repeat 5 times (there should be no pain), each time trying to bring your awareness to the sensation in your upper back.