Welcome to the second of the four-part series on the shoulder joint. Last week I discussed the subscapularis muscle, which is the main shoulder internal rotator. Now we’re on to the antagonist muscles of the subscap, namely, the infraspinatus and teres minor. The infraspinatus arises in a trough below the scapular spine, hence its name (“infra” means below). The teres minor arises back part (dorsum) of the scapula along its outer (lateral) border. The infraspinatus and teres minor insert onto the back part of the greater tuberosity of the humerus, as shown in Figure 1.
These muscles externally rotate the humerus, with the infraspinatus being the strongest external rotator of the joint. The infraspinatus and teres minor also function to stabilize the humeral head in the socket (glenoid).
|Figure 1: The infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff (the supraspinatus is the faded muscle on top).|
The Force Couple
These muscles combine with the subscapularis at the front of the joint to form a “force couple”. In this manner, antagonist muscles (for rotation) become synergists (for stability). Therapy (and surgery) for rotator cuff pathology is directed towards restoring this force couple. Click here to read about concept of antagonist/ synergist combinations for the hip muscles in yoga. Click here for some cues to use this in Dandasana.
Figure 2 illustrates this biomechanical process. This view is looking down on the shoulder with the front of the joint towards the bottom of the page.
|Figure 2: The force couple between the infraspinatus and subscapularis muscles. This view is looking down on the shoulder with the front of the joint towards the bottom of the page.|
Poses with the arms in reverse Namaste' stretch the infraspinatus and teres minor, as does Gomukhasana. Those of you who are more flexible may gently press the knife edge of the hand into the back to "load" the external rotators. Folks who are tighter may simply grasp the elbows or hands behind the back. Click here for more details and an animation of Gomukhasana stretching these muscles as well as a not so obvious cue for loading and using PNF for this stretch.
|Figure 3: Stretching the infraspinatus and teres minor by internally rotating the shoulders in Parsvottanasana.|
Externally rotating the shoulders in poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) can be used to activate the infraspinatus and teres minor. Figure 4 illustrates this, as well as the myofascial connection between these muscles and the muscles that retract the scapula, namely the trapezius and rhomboids.
Thanks for stopping by--I hope you're enjoying learning about biomechanical concepts like the force couple. Stay tuned for the next post when I'll go over the last muscle of the rotator cuff, the supraspinatus. Then I'll finish up with the relationship between the rotator cuff and the deltoids. By the end of this four-post series, you'll have a good understanding of the functional anatomy and biomechanics of the shoulder joint as applied to yoga. Click here to browse through the Bandha Yoga book series on anatomy, biomechanics and physiology for yoga.
All the Best,
Ray Long, MD