The Most Underappreciated Muscle in the Upper Body

There are many muscles throughout the entire body.  They all serve a purpose to stabilize, exert force, etc. for athletic movements as well as everyday life.


In certain movements or positions, muscles can help to stabilize joints while other muscles are the prime mover of certain movements.  Then, with other completely different movements, those same muscles that were once prime movers can act to stabilize while others adjust their role to be prime movers.

Over the years of being a physical therapist, I have learned new things and my thoughts have expanded and grown from what I’ve read, but also from what I have seen day in and day out working with and treating athletes and clients.

Whether it be from working with a professional athlete where their livelihood depends on the particular sport they are involved with OR a mother of 3 who just wants to be able to pick her kids up, there are many lessons to learn from each client and athlete I work with.

Recently, I have come to appreciate that some muscles are over-appreciated and underappreciated.  Not so much that one is per se better than another, but that there are muscles that “get all the glory” or are most recognized when it comes to athletic development or are more recognized when there is pain and dysfunction.

For instance, if someone presents with limited overhead shoulder flexion mobility, there are certain muscles that “we” look at first or that are considered the “low hanging fruit” when trying to improve shoulder flexion.


These muscles include:

Latissimus Dorsi

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Teres Major

teres major.PNG

Pectoralis Minor


pec minor.png

From my perspective, these 3 muscles have the biggest effect on shoulder flexion mobility when going overhead due to either their direct attachment on the humerus or their attachment on the scapula or both.


Often, shoulder flexion mobility may appear “normal” with the elbow extended.

As you can see in the video, my shoulder flexion on my left shoulder appears to be “normal” or full.  But, if I flex my elbow and in turn put the long head of my triceps on stretch, I am nowhere near to having full shoulder flexion mobility.

Therefore, recently, I have come to realize that the Long Head of the Triceps is the Most Underappreciated Muscle in the Upper Body.


Other muscles get much more notoriety due to their size or their “return on investment” when it comes to manual therapy and improving shoulder mobility.


This is one area that I have been assessing on many more people due to its impact on the shoulder, its function at the shoulder, as well as other areas of the upper body.


Long Head of Triceps

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Due to its attachment points on the scapula and just below the elbow, the long head of the triceps can limit elbow flexion, but more importantly, also limit overhead shoulder flexion and abduction when the elbow is flexed.

Whether it be someone looking to throw a baseball/play an overhead sport OR someone just looking to be able to raise their arm overhead with full mobility and without pain, the Long Tead of the Triceps can play a major role.

To assess to see if someone has full shoulder mobility/to see if the Long Head of the Triceps is affecting that mobility, assess shoulder flexion mobility while lying down on a table or bench and then perform it while flexing the elbow.

If you cannot get the arm fully overhead in either instance and/or have pain with this, try performing self-myofascial release to the Long Head of the Triceps.

Key Points:

-Perform with active range of motion consisting of elbow flexion in a shoulder flexed position.

-Work your way up the long head of the tricep where it crossss the back of the shoulder.

A good mobility drill to address the Long Head of the Triceps as well as the Thoracic Spine and Latissimus Dorsi is the Bench T-Spine Mobilization.

Bench T-Spine Mobilization

Key Points:

-Maintain ribs locked down towards belt line.

-Sit hips back towards heels.

-Stretch should be felt in lats, triceps, or thoracic spine.


A good motor control drill to help maintain an improvement in the Long Head of the Triceps is the Quadruped Assisted Reach, Roll, Lift, and Flex

Key Points:

-Go on your hands and knees. Attach a band above and behind you.

-Sit your hips back onto your heels.

-Reach out with the band, roll your palm over, and slow and controlled, lift you arm up.

-Then, slow and controlled, bend your elbow and try and touch your elbow to your opposite scapula (shoulder blade).

If you or someone presents with shoulder pain and/or limited shoulder flexion or abduction mobility, make sure to assess the low hanging fruit muscles mentioned earlier, but also make sure to assess the long head of the tricep to see if this could also be a contributing factor.




Andrew Millett