If your physician told you your shoulder pain is due to a winged scapula, you may be wondering exactly what that means. This article will discuss the definition of a winged scapula, how this condition can occur, and most importantly, how physical therapy exercises can help resolve this painful shoulder issue.

What is a Winged Scapula?

A winged scapula (shoulder blade) is a medical condition where a person’s shoulder blade abnormally protrudes from its regular position. When viewed from behind, a protruding shoulder blade looks somewhat similar to a bird’s wing, hence its name, winged scapula. People with a winged scapula will exhibit symptoms such as shoulder pain and weakness, and the inability to use the affected shoulder and arm for their normal activities. Without treatment, a person will eventually have difficulty performing even basic tasks such as shampooing their hair, changing their clothing, and other basic tasks that involve movements of lifting, pushing or pulling even minor objects.

How Does the Condition Occur?

A winged scapula can occur from an injury to the shoulder area such as a rotator cuff tear or another type of injury. A winged scapula can also stem from nerve damage or nerve impingement of the long thoracic nerve which originates in the cervical (neck) region. Other conditions such as weakness from extensive bed rest and/or bad posture can also lead to a winged scapula.

Treatment for a Winged Scapula

If your physician has diagnosed you with a winged scapula they will likely prescribe for you to participate in a series of physical therapy sessions. In a physical therapist’s initial assessment, they will take the patient’s health history. Then, they will determine the origination of the injury, and consider whether other medical issues such as cervical issues could be a contributing factor to the patient’s condition. The physical therapist will then create a custom treatment plan for the patient. This typically includes initial treatments to reduce pain levels. They’ll eventually introduce stretches designed to increase the range of motion throughout the shoulder area. As treatment progresses, a physical therapist will introduce exercises designed to increase shoulder and arm strength as well as improve posture issues.

The Top 3 Exercises for a Winged Shoulder

As part of their treatment plan, a physical therapist will likely prescribe the following exercises. These are exceptionally helpful in the healing process for a winged scapula.

External Rotation — In this exercise, the patient will stand with their arms hanging on either side. Next, they will lift both forearms to the front, bending their elbows to a 90-degree angle. From this stance, the patient will then rotate only the lower part of their arms to each side. Their hands will point away from their waist. Keeping their elbows close to their waist, the patient will then rotate their forearm to the front, then back to each side for 10 reps. The use of exercise bands with this exercise can also help in building muscle strength.

Scapular Retraction — This exercise requires a patient to stand or sit in a comfortable position (while also practicing good posture). The patient will then pinch their shoulder blades together as if they were trying to make their shoulder blades touch, while also moving them in a slightly downward motion. The downward motion helps prevent the patient from hunching their shoulders.

The patient should continue squeezing their shoulder blades together for 3 seconds. The entire process should be repeated for 10 repetitions.

Push-ups — Depending upon the physical condition of the patient, a physical therapist will have a patient perform a series of traditional push-ups. They may also have some patients perform push-ups from an elevated surface, such as a desk. When a patient practices good form with their shoulders directly over their hands, push-ups can be an excellent exercise to help strengthen and stabilize the shoulder region.


If you or someone you know has a winged scapula, it’s important to receive proper treatment. For more information about how physical therapy can help heal this condition, please contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787.