Motion of the shoulder complex during multiplanar humeral elevation

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2009 Feb;91(2):378-89. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.G.01483.


Background: Many prior studies have evaluated shoulder motion, yet no three-dimensional analysis comparing the combined clavicular, scapular, and humeral motion during arm elevation has been done. We aimed to describe and compare dynamic three-dimensional motion of the shoulder complex during raising and lowering the arm across three distinct elevation planes (flexion, scapular plane abduction, and coronal plane abduction).

Methods: Twelve subjects without a shoulder abnormality were enrolled. Transcortical pin placement into the clavicle, scapula, and humerus allowed electromagnetic motion sensors to be rigidly fixed. The subjects completed two repetitions of raising and lowering the arm in flexion, scapular, and abduction planes. Three-dimensional angles were calculated for sternoclavicular, acromioclavicular, scapulothoracic, and glenohumeral joint motions. Joint angles between humeral elevation planes and between raising and lowering of the arm were compared.

Results: General patterns of shoulder motion observed during humeral elevation were clavicular elevation, retraction, and posterior axial rotation; scapular internal rotation, upward rotation, and posterior tilting relative to the clavicle; and glenohumeral elevation and external rotation. Clavicular posterior rotation predominated at the sternoclavicular joint (average, 31 degrees). Scapular posterior tilting predominated at the acromioclavicular joint (average, 19 degrees). Differences between flexion and abduction planes of humerothoracic elevation were largest for the glenohumeral joint plane of elevation (average, 46 degrees).

Conclusions: Overall shoulder motion consists of substantial angular rotations at each of the four shoulder joints, enabling the multiple-joint interaction required to elevate the arm overhead.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acromioclavicular Joint / physiology
  • Adult
  • Arm / physiology
  • Clavicle / physiology
  • Female
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Lifting*
  • Male
  • Rotation
  • Shoulder / physiology*
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology
  • Sternoclavicular Joint / physiology