Scapular muscle recruitment pattern: electromyographic response of the trapezius muscle to sudden shoulder movement before and after a fatiguing exercise

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2002 May;32(5):221-9. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2002.32.5.221.


Study design: Test-retest reliability study and single-group repeated measures design.

Objectives: To evaluate the muscle latency times of the 3 portions of the trapezius muscle to a sudden arm movement in normal shoulders and to determine if this recruitment pattern is altered as a result of fatigue.

Background: It has been suggested that shoulder impingement may be related to altered muscle activity and muscle fatigue in the scapular stabilizers. Fatigue-induced changes in latency times of the trapezius might influence scapular stability.

Methods and measures: Muscle latency times were investigated in 30 healthy shoulders with surface electromyography. Muscle activity was measured in all 3 sections of the trapezius and the middle deltoid muscle during a sudden downward falling movement of the arm. Subsequently the shoulder was fatigued on an isokinetic dynamometer, after which muscle latency time measurement was repeated.

Results: ANOVA for repeated measures revealed significant differences in latency times (P < 0.05) among the 4 muscles of interest. Although there were no significant differences among the 3 sections of the trapezius muscle, they all were recruited after the initialization of the deltoid muscle. The recruitment order of the shoulder muscles did not change with muscle fatigue. However, after fatigue, muscle responses were significantly slower in all muscles except for the lower trapezius (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: There is a specific recruitment sequence in the shoulder muscles in response to a sudden arm movement characterized by initial activation of the middle deltoid muscle and followed by simultaneous contraction of all 3 sections of the trapezius. This muscle activation pattern is delayed but not altered with fatigue.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology*