Rehabilitation of scapular muscle balance: which exercises to prescribe?

Am J Sports Med. 2007 Oct;35(10):1744-51. doi: 10.1177/0363546507303560. Epub 2007 Jul 2.


Background: Strengthening exercises for the scapular muscles are used in the treatment of scapulothoracic dysfunction related to shoulder injury. In view of the intermuscular and intramuscular imbalances often established in these patients, exercises promoting lower trapezius (LT), middle trapezius (MT), and serratus anterior (SA) activation with minimal activity in the upper trapezius (UT) are recommended.

Hypothesis: Of 12 commonly used trapezius strengthening exercises, a selection can be performed for muscle balance rehabilitation, based on a low UT/LT, UT/MT, or UT/SA muscle ratio.

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Electromyographic activity of the 3 trapezius parts and the SA was measured in 45 healthy subjects performing 12 commonly described scapular exercises, using surface electromyography.

Results: For each intramuscular trapezius ratio (UT/LT, UT/MT), 3 exercises were selected for restoration of muscle balance. The exercises side-lying external rotation, side-lying forward flexion, prone horizontal abduction with external rotation, and prone extension were found to be the most appropriate for intramuscular trapezius muscle balance rehabilitation. For the UT/SA ratio, none of the exercises met the criteria for optimal intermuscular balance restoration.

Conclusion: In cases of trapezius muscle imbalance, some exercises are preferable over others because of their low UT/LT and UT/MT ratios.

Clinical relevance: In the selection of rehabilitation exercises, the clinician should have a preference for exercises with high activation of the LT and MT and low activity of the UT.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Posture
  • Scapula*
  • Shoulder / physiology*