Motor control and learning possibilities of scapular muscles are of clinical interest for restoring scapular muscle balance in patients with neck and shoulder disorders. The aim of the study was to investigate whether selective voluntary activation of intra-muscular parts within the serratus anterior can be learned with electromyographical (EMG) biofeedback, and whether the lower serratus anterior and the lower trapezius muscle comprise the lower scapula rotation force couple by synergistic activation. Nine healthy males practiced selective activation of intra-muscular parts within the serratus anterior with visual EMG biofeedback, while the activity of four parts of the serratus anterior and four parts of the trapezius muscle was recorded. One subject was able to selectively activate both the upper and the lower serratus anterior respectively. Moreover, three subjects managed to selectively activate the lower serratus anterior, and two subjects learned to selectively activate the upper serratus anterior. During selective activation of the lower serratus anterior, the activity of this muscle part was 14.4+/-10.3 times higher than the upper serratus anterior activity (P<0.05). The corresponding ratio for selective upper serratus vs. lower serratus anterior activity was 6.4+/-1.7 (P<0.05). Moreover, selective activation of the lower parts of the serratus anterior evoked 7.7+/-8.5 times higher synergistic activity of the lower trapezius compared with the upper trapezius (P<0.05). The learning of complete selective activation of both the lower and the upper serratus anterior of one subject, and selective activation of either the upper or lower serratus anterior by five subjects designates the promising clinical application of EMG biofeedback for restoring scapular muscle balance. The synergistic activation between the lower serratus anterior and the lower trapezius muscle was observed in only a few subjects, and future studies including more subjects are required before conclusions of a lower scapula rotation couple can be drawn.
2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.