The serratus anterior muscle covers the outer and posterior portions of the rib cage. It attaches to the upper ribs as well as to the shoulder blades. This muscle is an important stabilizer of the shoulder blades, holding them firmly to the rib cage, and it also works to rotate the shoulder blades upward and move the arms away from the body. This muscle is particularly prone to weakness.
Function of the Serratus Anterior in Rowing
In rowing, the serratus anterior has two main functions. During the drive phase -- when the rower pulls the oars through the water -- the serratus anterior contracts eccentrically to control the movement of the shoulder blades toward the spine. During the recovery phase -- when the rower moves the oars above the surface of the water -- the serratus anterior pulls the shoulder blades forward as the arms extend.
The serratus anterior is susceptible to overuse injuries in rowing because of the high degree of repetitive motion. In overuse injuries, a muscle is subjected to numerous microtraumas at a rate that overwhelms the muscle’s ability to heal itself. With the serratus anterior muscle, overuse injuries can lead to stress fractures of the ribs.
The treatment for serratus anterior injuries varies according to the severity of the injury. In general, health care practitioners recommend stopping or significantly reducing the activity that caused the injury. Once the acute pain has diminished, movement and strengthening of the muscles are encouraged. Consult your health care provider if you have questions about your recommended treatment.
The recovery time depends on the nature and severity of the injury to the serratus anterior. In an overuse injury, the affected area becomes inflamed. This inflammation can last 48 hours to six days, if the area isn’t reinjured. If you continue to aggravate the injury, the inflammation phase will last longer. After the inflammation phase, the body enters the proliferative phase, during which it produces collagen and other substances necessary to repair the injured muscle. This phase typically lasts one or two weeks. However, if you irritate the muscle further, your body has to start over with the inflammation phase. The final stage of healing begins about three weeks after the initial injury. During this phase, the muscle rebuilds itself. Before returning to your previous activity level, you must strengthen the serratus anterior muscle. Gradually build up strength to avoid damaging the muscle again.