Serratus Anterior Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Tips

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Serratus Anterior PainSerratus anterior pain is terrible! There’s no easier way to put it. If you’ve done something to your serratus anterior muscle, you will likely feel it in most of your day-to-day movements. That being said, you may not be even aware what the serratus anterior muscle is, let alone how you might have injured it. We’re going to examine serratus anterior pain from all sides. We’ll discuss serratus anterior muscle pain, serratus anterior pain symptoms, serratus anterior pain causes, and tips for treatment to help your recovery go quickly and smoothly.

What Does Serratus Anterior Mean?

The first question you may have is, “What does serratus anterior mean?” In terms of muscles, it’s not one that comes up in everyday conversation. So, where is this muscle and what does it do? The serratus anterior muscle runs from the 8th or 9th rib, and connects to the front of the shoulder blade. It’s often referred to as the “big swing muscle” or “boxer’s muscle,” due to how it’s used in movements such as punching or swinging your arms. Essentially, the serratus anterior helps with forward rotation of the arm, pulling your shoulder blade around the rib cage during the motion. As you can probably guess, due to its position and connection to arm movements, when you injure the serratus anterior, you tend to feel it.

What Causes Serratus Anterior Pain?

The causes of serratus anterior pain are pretty numerous, but overhead movements, and specifically lifting a weight over your head, tend to be the most common. If you regularly participate in sports or weight-training activities, there’s a good chance you are familiar with the feeling of serratus anterior pain.

  • Weightlifting
  • Swimming
  • Gymnastics
  • Tennis
  • Chin-ups, push-ups

Severe coughing or hyperventilation may also strain the muscle. Keep in mind that these are just examples, as lifting any item over your head may cause strain or damage to the serratus anterior muscle. There are also more than a few risk factors involved with serratus anterior muscle pain.

Serratus Anterior Pain Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors for serratus anterior pain that are not linked to sports activities. Sometimes an underlying health issue leads to that pain. Conditions include:

  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Slipped rib
  • Intercostal muscle tear
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallbladder dysfunction
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Pleurisy

All of these things occur around the area of the serratus anterior, making it fairly easy to lead to that injury. Luckily, there are a number of ways you can treat serratus anterior muscle pain, most of which can be done in your own home, simply and safely.

Serratus Anterior Muscle Pain Treatment

In many cases, serratus anterior muscle pain treatment is similar to other muscle pain treatments. Many of the following techniques can even be done at home.

1. Modification of Activities

First and foremost, you should stop (temporarily) doing activities that would aggravate the injury and or possibly caused it in the first place. Avoid lifting heavy weights until the injury is healed, especially in swinging or overhead movements.

2. Warm Therapy

Warming packs or gels can help reduce the pain and heal the injury by loosening up the muscle and those around it, increasing blood circulation.

3. Massage

A massage may also loosen up the affected muscles and relieve any related shoulder muscle pain. Note: you may want to consult with a doctor to make sure this is okay, depending on the extent of your particular injury. It would also be a very good idea to inform your masseuse of this pain, so they know what to avoid and what techniques to use.

4. Cold Therapy

A trusty remedy for most muscle injuries, a cold pack or cold gel can help the swelling go down in the injured muscle, allowing it to repair more quickly and relieve you of the some of the pain.

There are also a few exercises you can do in order to help strengthen your serratus anterior muscle.

Exercises for the Serratus Anterior Muscle

There are a few exercises that can help relieve serratus anterior pain and also help strengthen the muscle. If you are having issues with the serratus anterior, make sure to first ask your doctor if you should proceed with these exercises.

1. Stretching

Stretching before and after any activity that could damage the serratus anterior will help you avoid injury, but it can also help you recover from an injury. Try sitting and reaching backward with your arm and shoulder on the affected side. Reach with your unaffected arm and grab the affected arm at the elbow and pull to assist the stretch. This will help relieve some of the pain.

2. Wall Presses

Stand facing a wall at about an arm’s length distance. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Push your upper body toward the wall without bending the elbows; then, go back to the original position.

3. Strengthening Exercises

There are a number of exercises you can use before and after the injury to strengthen your serratus anterior muscle. Those include push-ups, rope pulls, and planking.

Treat Your Serratus Anterior Muscle Well

Your serratus anterior muscle may not be well known to you, but it is very well used. Injuring it can take the wind out of your sails and make a lot of movements hurt for a period of time. The good news is that it’s an injury that’s often rather easy to recover from.

“What is Serratus Anterior Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Risk Factors,” ePain Assist,, last accessed April 26, 2017.
“Serratus Anterior Muscle: Chest, Rib, Arm, Finger and Upper Back Pain, Breathing Difficulty,” The Wellness Digest,, last accessed April 26, 2017.
Modric, J., “Serratus Anterior Muscle Origin, Insertion, Function,” eHealth Star, June 29, 2016,, last accessed April 26, 2017.