Scapular behavior in shoulder impingement syndrome

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2002 Jan;83(1):60-9. doi: 10.1053/apmr.2002.27471.


Objective: To quantify the contribution of each scapular rotation to the scapular total range of motion (ROM) in both shoulders of persons with a unilateral shoulder impingement syndrome (SIS), to compare 3-dimensional (3D) scapular attitudes of their symptomatic and asymptomatic shoulders in flexion and in abduction, and to characterize the scapular behavior of these subjects by classifying them into subgroups based on scapular tilting differences between their symptomatic and asymptomatic shoulders.

Design: Comparisons of 3D scapular attitudes, scapular total ROM, and percentage of contributions of each scapular rotation to the scapular total ROM.

Setting: A motricity laboratory.

Participants: Fifty-one subjects, including 41 with a SIS (29 had an asymptomatic contralateral shoulder) and 10 healthy subjects.

Interventions: The 3D scapular attitudes were calculated with the subjects in a standardized seated position; with the arm at rest; or at 70 degrees, 90 degrees, and 110 degrees of shoulder flexion and abduction. Axial rotation angles were calculated using a fixed set of Cardanic angles.

Main outcome measures: At 90 degrees of arm elevation, data from 10 shoulders of healthy subjects were used to set up normative values (99% confidence interval of mean 3D scapular attitudes) to compare with 3D scapular attitudes of symptomatic and asymptomatic shoulders of SIS subjects. We analyzed the scapula behavior of subjects with SIS and classified them into subgroups based on scapular anterior tilting asymmetry.

Results: In flexion, almost half of the scapular total ROM was provided by anterior tilting (48.2%-51.3%), whereas in abduction, external rotation (40.3%-42.4%) was the main contributor. Scapular total ROM was higher in abduction than in flexion in all arm positions for both shoulder groups (P <.01). Also, 3D scapular attitude patterns of both shoulders of SIS subjects were different from those of healthy subjects. At 90 degrees, scapular asymmetry in anterior tilting allowed us to classify SIS subjects with respect to more (lead) or less (lag) scapular tilting in the affected side (P <.0001) or no difference (P =.11) between the sides (symmetrical). No significant differences (P >.05), except for a small 2 degrees difference in transverse rotation during arm flexion at 110 degrees (P =.002), were observed in 3D scapular attitudes and scapular total ROM between both shoulders of SIS subjects. Patterns of 3D scapular attitudes and scapular total ROM were significantly different between flexion and abduction arm positions (P <.05).

Conclusions: The contribution of rotations and scapular total ROM differed according to the plane of arm elevation in SIS subjects. Group analyses revealed no differences in 3D scapular attitudes between symptomatic and asymptomatic shoulders of subjects with unilateral SIS. This could be caused by the use, in SIS subjects, of inappropriate neuromuscular strategies affecting both shoulders. However, individual analyses revealed scapular asymmetry in the sagittal plane, which suggests that SIS subjects with less anterior tilting in the symptomatic shoulder, as compared with the asymptomatic contralateral one, may be at high risk of developing chronic SIS. This last finding provides scientific evidence to focus rehabilitation protocols toward a restoration of anterior tilting.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*
  • Rotation
  • Scapula / anatomy & histology
  • Scapula / physiopathology*
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / physiopathology*