What Is Scapular Mobilization?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

The scapula (or shoulder blade) is a triangle-shaped bone that is located in the upper portion of the back and serves as an attachment point for 17 neck, shoulder, and trunk muscles.

This important structure functions along with the ball and socket (glenohumeral) shoulder joint to allow your arm to move in multiple different directions. Occasionally, restricted or dysfunctional scapular movement can limit your available shoulder range of motion or make movement painful.

This article will discuss scapular mobilization, which is a technique used to address the issue of restricted scapular motion.

Relaxing Neck And Shoulder Massage. Tanned Woman Enjoying Neck And Shoulder Massage In A Wellness

Stevica Mrdja / EyeEm / Getty images

What Is Scapular Mobilization?

Scapular mobilization involves applying direct pressure to the shoulder blade by a physical therapist in an effort to restore normal movement in the scapula. These forces can be gentle and back and forth in motion or more forceful and held longer, depending on the type of mobilization technique being performed.

Ideally, increases in scapular movement should help:

  • Improve shoulder range of motion
  • Reduce pain
  • Enhance overall function

To perform this hands-on technique, the therapist typically positions you on your side with your arm resting on their own arm at a 90-degree angle.

Using their hands to cup the borders of the scapula, your practitioner will typically move the bone in several different directions (up and down, forward and backward, or in a circular pattern).

Is Scapular Mobilization Painful?

While you may feel a strain or stretching sensation, this treatment should not be overly painful.

Scapular mobilization exercises may also be performed after the hands-on portion to maintain and advance your progress.

Why Is It Used?

Restrictions in scapular movement can cause damage and pain to your shoulder and can negatively impact your posture. Because of this, scapular mobilizations are often used whenever limited shoulder blade motion is identified.

This treatment technique is also routinely performed during physical therapy for the following
conditions:

Scapular Mobilization Exercises

Once manual mobilizations have been performed on your shoulder blade, scapular exercises are typically prescribed by your physical therapist. These techniques focus on maintaining the newfound movement in your scapula and on increasing the strength in several of the shoulder and trunk muscles that attach to it.

While there are many different exercises that can help with this, among the most common are:

  • Shoulder blade squeezes: Gently squeeze your shoulder blades in the down and back position and hold them here.
  • Shoulder rolls: Slowly but steadily roll your shoulders in a backward circular pattern.
  • Band-resisted rows: With a resistance band secured in a door, make a rowing motion as you pull backward on both ends and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Resisted shoulder extension: With your elbows straight and your arms by your side, tug backward on both ends of a resistance band as you move your scapulae together.
  • Side-lying external rotation: Lie on your side with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and your palm resting on your stomach. Without moving your elbow from your body, rotate your hand away from your stomach and into the air.

Exercise Precautions

While these scapular exercises are generally safe and effective, they should not be performed without consulting your physician if you have recently undergone surgery or are experiencing pain while doing them.

Benefits

Scapular mobilization has been shown to positively benefit a number of the conditions mentioned above. This treatment was found to increase shoulder range of motion when combined with manual therapy to the posterior shoulder capsule in people with adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder).

Scapular treatments emphasizing shoulder blade mobilizations and muscular retraining have also been shown to improve pain and function in those with shoulder impingement (when the tendons of the shoulder are pinched as they pass the upper arm).

In addition, for people with rounded-shoulder posture, scapular mobilization has been found to positively affect the resting position of the shoulder blades. It is worth noting, however, that these improvements are similar to those seen with postural stretching.

Finally, shoulder blade exercises were shown to improve pain and function in those with scapular dyskinesia (a change in the normal resting or active position of the scapula during shoulder movement), though the research is still mixed on whether they improve the movement or resting position of the bone.

Risks

While scapular mobilizations are generally safe, they should not be painful. In addition, people with decreased sensation, low bone density, or hypermobility disorders should speak to their healthcare provider before receiving this treatment.

Summary

The scapula is a triangular bone situated in the upper back that plays a fundamental role in shoulder movement. When scapular movement is restricted, it can cause pain and problems with functioning.

Scapular mobilizations involve hands-on manipulation and stretching of the shoulder blade. When combined with exercise, this treatment can reduce soreness, increase range of motion, and improve function.

A Word From Verywell

Abnormal or restricted scapular movement can play a large role in many common shoulder diagnoses. If you are dealing with the frustration of shoulder pain or stiffness, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider about your condition.

Following a thorough examination of your shoulder and shoulder blade, a provider will be able to outline available treatment options and discuss whether scapular mobilizations can benefit you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is scapular mobilization used for?

    Scapular mobilization is used to improve and bring your scapula (shoulder blade) bone movement back to normal. The scapula serves as an attachment point for many shoulder, neck, and trunk muscles. Because of this, normal movement in this bone is key to a fully mobile and pain-free shoulder.

  • How long should you do joint mobilizations?

    The length of time these mobilization treatments are required will vary widely depending on how much your shoulder is restricted and how you improve from therapy. How well you tolerate the therapy and your pain levels may also account for your treatment length. While each person’s treatment is unique, one study found benefit from performing 10 mobilizations to the scapula in each direction, with 30-second breaks in between.

  • What are the grades of mobilization?
    • Grade 1 mobilizations are small in amplitude and focused on the beginning of a joint’s range of motion.
    • Grade 2 mobilizations are larger in size and travel from the beginning to the middle of the joint’s movement range.
    • Grade 3 mobilizations are also large-amplitude forces, but ones that travel
      from the middle to the end of the joint’s normal motion.
    • Grade 4 treatments are small in amplitude and are focused primarily on the end of the joint’s available arc of motion.
Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Scapular(shoulder blade) disorders.

  2. Duzgun I, Turgut E,Eraslan L, Elbasan B, Oskay D, Atay OA. Which method for frozen shoulder mobilization: manualposterior capsule stretching or scapular mobilization? J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact.2019;19(3):311-316.

  3. Nodehi Moghadam A, Rahnama L, NoorizadehDehkordi S, Abdollahi S. Exercise therapy may affect scapular position and motion in individuals with scapular dyskinesis: a systematic review of clinical trials. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. 2020;29(1):e29-e36. doi:10.1016/j.jse.2019.05.037

  4. Fani M, Ebrahimi S, Ghanbari A. Evaluation of scapular mobilization and comparison to pectoralis minor stretching in individuals with rounded shoulder posture: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2020;24(4):367-372. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2020.07.021

  5. Struyf F, Nijs J, Mollekens S, et al. Scapular-focused treatment in patients with shoulder impingement syndrome: a randomized clinica trial. Clin Rheumatol. 2013;32(1):73-85. doi:10.1007/s10067-012-2093-2