The purpose of this study was to compare subjects with subacromial impingement and subjects with normal shoulders with respect to muscle activity. Fifteen subjects in each group were studied by means of fine-wire electromyography. The middle deltoid and rotator cuff muscles were evaluated during isotonic scaption from 30 to 120 degrees. Overall, the impingement group demonstrated decreased mean muscle activity in comparison with the group of normal subjects. The magnitude of diminished activity was statistically significantly different (P < .05) during the 30- to 60-degrees arc for the infraspinatus, subscapularis, and middle deltoid muscles; in addition, the infraspinatus muscle demonstrated significantly depressed activity during the 60- to 90-degrees arc. In the impingement group, the supraspinatus and teres minor revealed a diminution of muscle function in comparison with shoulders in the normal group; the difference was not significant. This study demonstrates that muscle activity in subjects with impingement is most notably decreased in the first arc of motion. Also of clinical relevance is the fact that the inferior force vector (from the infraspinatus and subscapularis) is less functional in subjects with impingement than is the superior compressive vector (from the supraspinatus). Thus, humeral head depression during the critical first portion of elevation may be insufficient in people with subacromial impingement.