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Understanding the Shoulder Muscles and impingements: Infraspinatus, Subscapularis, Supraspinatus.

The human shoulder is a marvel of bio-mechanical engineering, allowing for a wide range of motion and functional capabilities. However, this intricate system of muscles and tendons isn't without its challenges. One common issue is shoulder impingement, a condition where soft tissues get compressed and cause pain during certain movements. In this blog post, we'll explore how the infraspinatus muscle may play a role in inhibiting the function of the subscapularis, contributing to impingement and soft tissue pain in the supraspinatus.

Understanding the Shoulder Muscles:

Before delving into the interplay between the infraspinatus, subscapularis, and supraspinatus, let's briefly review their roles:


Location: Situated on the posterior aspect of the scapula.

Function: Primarily responsible for external rotation of the shoulder and stabilisation of the joint during arm movement.


Location: Occupies the anterior surface of the scapula.

Function: Key player in internal rotation and stabilisation of the shoulder.


Location: Located on the top of the scapula, above the spine.

Function: Assists in the initiation of shoulder abduction and provides stability to the joint.

The Interplay:

The shoulder muscles work in harmony to facilitate smooth and coordinated movements. However, imbalances or dysfunctions in one muscle can lead to complications. In the case of impingement and soft tissue pain, the interplay between the infraspinatus, subscapularis, and supraspinatus is crucial.

Infraspinatus Inhibition of Subscapularis:

The infraspinatus and subscapularis are antagonistic muscles in terms of rotation. If the infraspinatus becomes overactive or tight, it can inhibit the subscapularis, limiting its ability to perform its essential functions, especially internal rotation.

Impact on Supraspinatus:

With the subscapularis inhibited, the delicate balance within the shoulder is disrupted. The supraspinatus, already prone to impingement due to its location between the acromion and humeral head, now faces increased stress. The compromised internal rotation function of the subscapularis can contribute to improper mechanics, leading to impingement and soft tissue pain in the supraspinatus.

Implications for Movement Patterns:

Individuals experiencing this muscle imbalance may notice discomfort or pain during activities that involve overhead movements or reaching across the body. The compromised function of the subscapularis and the added stress on the supraspinatus can result in a cascade of issues, affecting the overall stability and health of the shoulder joint.


In the intricate dance of shoulder muscles, each participant plays a vital role. Understanding the relationships between muscles like the infraspinatus, subscapularis, and supraspinatus is crucial for identifying and addressing issues such as impingement and soft tissue pain. If you're experiencing shoulder discomfort, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified physical therapist who can assess your specific situation and prescribe appropriate interventions, such as targeted exercises and stretches, to restore balance and functionality to your shoulder complex.


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