By Patricia Staszak, PT

The next STOTT PILATES postural principle that we will describe is scapular placement.  The scapula is commonly known as the shoulder blade and it connects the humerus at your shoulder joint, to the back of the upper rib cage.  You may want to go back and review last month’s rib cage article because the rib cage and scapula have a very important relationship.

The connection of the scapula at the back of the rib cage is not exactly a joint, but there are muscles whose job it is to hold the scapula in place on the ribs.  This relationship of a concave (curved inward) to the convex (curved outward) rib cage provides additional stability to this connection (RMR 18). 

The scapula is extremely important to the function of the shoulder and its function also affects the neck. If the rib cage is not in the correct position and mobile enough to meet the curve of the scapula, it contributes to the instability of the scapula, and therefore the stability of the shoulder.  Tight or weak muscles around the scapula can change the placement of the scapula.  This can affect its ability to support the shoulder, and/or can cause compression at the neck or tension in the muscles around the neck (RMR 18)

The neutral position of the scapula is flat and flush on the rib cage and centered on the upper back of the rib cage, with the inside border of the scapula between 2.5 and 3 inches from the spine.  Level 1 stabilizing muscles function to hold the scapula in place – they work at a low hum to support the scapula, therefore there should be no tension in the muscles of this area if the scapula is in neutral (RMR 18).

With movement, the scapula should function in a neutral position until the arm is lifted above a little less than 90 degrees.  As the arm raises above 90 degrees the scapula rotates upward, and then at the very end of the range of motion the whole scapula elevates slightly.  This creates a good mechanical line of bones to support the arm and shoulder when the arm is fully elevated (RMR 19). 

Fig. 1

The following exercise is great to teach scapular position.

STOTT PILATES – Scapular Isolation©:

Start Position: Sitting, with pelvis, rib cage and scapula in a neutral position.

Scapula Isolation Exercise

Reach your fingertips forward to protract your scapula, making sure to keep your scapula centered on the rib cage, with no tension of the muscles around the neck.  Feel your scapula wrapping forward around your rib cage.

Return to your start position.


Inhale: Gently slide your scapula backwards to retract it in toward your spine.  Make sure to only move your scapula, do not extend your rib cage.

Exhale: Return to your start position.

I hope this helps you understand the scapula!  We have simplified the topic somewhat, but this is a good start for you to understand how it works so you can stay strong and injury free at your upper back, neck and shoulders.

©All cueing provided by STOTT PILATES

Works Cited

Support Material – RMR1 Spinal, Pelvic & Scapular Stabilization: Matwork & Reformer.  Toronto: STOTT PILATES, 2010.
“Warm-Up: Scapula Isolation.” Comprehensive Matwork. Toronto: STOTT PILATES, 2001. 24. Print.