There is a growing body of literature associating abnormal scapular positions and motions, and, to a lesser degree, clavicular kinematics with a variety of shoulder pathologies. The purpose of this manuscript is to (1) review the normal kinematics of the scapula and clavicle during arm elevation, (2) review the evidence for abnormal scapular and clavicular kinematics in glenohumeral joint pathologies, (3) review potential biomechanical implications and mechanisms of these kinematic alterations, and (4) relate these biomechanical factors to considerations in the patient management process for these disorders. There is evidence of scapular kinematic alterations associated with shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tendinopathy, rotator cuff tears, glenohumeral instability, adhesive capsulitis, and stiff shoulders. There is also evidence for altered muscle activation in these patient populations, particularly, reduced serratus anterior and increased upper trapezius activation. Scapular kinematic alterations similar to those found in patient populations have been identified in subjects with a short rest length of the pectoralis minor, tight soft-tissue structures in the posterior shoulder region, excessive thoracic kyphosis, or with flexed thoracic postures. This suggests that attention to these factors is warranted in the clinical evaluation and treatment of these patients. The available evidence in clinical trials supports the use of therapeutic exercise in rehabilitating these patients, while further gains in effectiveness should continue to be pursued.
Level of evidence: Level 5.