Winging shoulder blades are a common problem among dancers and are more commonly referred to as angel wings or chicken wings (Figure a).
This postural variation is often caused by weakness of the scapular (shoulder blade) muscles and shoulder girdle stabilising muscles. Although angel wings are often not painful, it is important to address the issue sooner rather than later, as it may increase the likelihood of developing overuse shoulder conditions such as shoulder impingement or instability. For dancers who weightbear through their arms (e.g. male dancers lifting their partners, commercial dancers performing acrobatics and tricks) it is crucial that the shoulder muscles are strong to prevent injury.
The shoulder girdle is comprised of the acromioclavicular joint, scapulothoracic joint and the glenohumeral joint. The glenohumeral joint, a ball and socket joint, is created by the shallow joint surface (“socket”) of the scapular in which rests the humeral head (“ball”). This allows the shoulder to move in large arcs of movements but it is with this increased joint mobility that stability is sacrificed. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the muscles that stabilise the scapulae on the rib cage to create a stable foundation for the glenohumeral joint to move on.Importantly, this also corrects chicken wings or angel wings.
The shoulder girdle is complex and thereby requires both stabilising and force producing muscles to ensure it functions at the high level required for a dancer. The large muscles that produce strong, powerful movements include the pectorals, latissimus dorsi and trapezius (Figure b). The smaller, stabilising and control muscles include the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres major) and serratus anterior muscle (Figure c). Angel wings often appear when there is an imbalance in muscle recruitment and activation of these larger and smaller muscle groups.
There are many ways to strengthen your scapular stabilising muscles.
Below are some basic exercises to assist in correcting your angel wings. Click here for our exercise pictures.
If you are experiencing any pain or are concerned that these exercises are not for you, it is important to consult your physiotherapist who can provide you a specific programme.
Exercise Band Row