The supraspinatus is just one of your four rotator cuff muscles, and it happens to be the most commonly injured of all of them.
The goal of your rotator cuff is to function as a unit to keep your arm secure in your shoulder joint. While each of the four contribute in different ways to move the arm, their combined role is increasing glenohumeral joint stability.
The supraspinatus sits on the top part of your shoulder, and helps initiate abduction of the arm. Essentially, the first few degrees of bringing your arm out to your side, is the responsibility of your supraspinatus. If you are picturing a lateral raise and thinking that was a deltoid exercise, you’re not wrong.
The deltoid and supraspinatus must work together in a force couple. The supraspinatus initiates the abduction motion and keeps the humerus pulled secure in the shoulder joint. The deltoid provides a powerful force to pull the arm out to the side. Without the supraspinatus doing it’s part, there is a higher risk of the shoulder being unstable during upper extremity movements!
When you are standing at rest with your arms by your side, your shoulder ligaments do a pretty good job of keeping your humerus locked in. It’s when you move your arm that the demand increases on your rotator cuff.
The middle arc of your normal 180 degrees of shoulder motion is where your rotator cuff is placed under the most demand. The supraspinatus is most used during the early part of that middle arc.
As I mentioned before, the supraspinatus is the most injured rotator cuff muscle, and there are a few reasons for that. If the supraspinatus is not able to keep the arm stable in the shoulder joint, the deltoid activation can cause the humerus to slide too far up when lifting your arm.
This puts your rotator cuff muscles in a more lengthened, and less effective position. Now we are demanding more from an already weak muscle. This can lead to repetitive stress injuries and tears of the supraspinatus.
The space between the top of the humerus and the acromion, where the supraspinatus tendon lives, is already so small. Now we add in a humerus that is moving more than normal upwards, further crowding that space. This puts you at a higher risk of experiencing subacromial impingement, which can damage the supraspinatus and its tendon.
While it is difficult to truly isolate such a small muscle, there is a great supraspinatus exercise that teaches your body how to use that muscle properly. Since the goal of our rotator cuff is to stabilize the shoulder, we want to make sure that our posture and shoulder positioning is appropriate before we start.
Our supraspinatus runs in what is called the scapular plane. This means about 30 degrees in front of pure abduction. So this is the position we will be doing this exercise in. Another critical component of this supraspinatus exercise is keeping our chin tucked. This will help prevent our upper traps from taking over and compromising our shoulder blade positioning.
In this video I demonstrate this specific supraspinatus exercise:
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Doctor of Physical Therapy Candidate, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer