Electromyographic activity of selected scapular stabilizers during glenohumeral internal and external rotation contractions

J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2010 Sep;19(6):884-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2010.05.015.


Hypothesis: An important synergistic relationship exists between the scapular stabilizers and the glenohumeral rotators. Information on the relative contribution of the scapular stabilizers to glenohumeral rotation would be useful for exercise prescription for overhead athletes and for patients with shoulder pathology. We hypothesized that the scapular stabilizers would be highly active during both maximal and submaximal internal and external rotation.

Materials and methods: Eight healthy male volunteers (16 shoulders) performed internal and external glenohumeral rotation testing at maximal and submaximal intensities. They also performed a scapular retraction rowing exercise at maximal and submaximal levels. Electromyographic (EMG) signals were recorded from the infraspinatus, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, and middle trapezius. Values were compared among muscle groups, among individual muscles at different intensity levels, and among individual muscles at different points in the arc of motion.

Results: For submaximal glenohumeral internal rotation, activity in the scapular stabilizers was not different (P = .1-.83) from activity in the internal rotator throughout the range of motion. For the initial two-thirds of maximal internal rotation, middle trapezius activity and pectoralis major activity were higher (P < .05) than serratus anterior activity. For submaximal external rotation, activity in the scapular stabilizers during the middle phase of the motion was higher (P < .05) than activity in the external rotators. For maximal external rotation these differences were present throughout the motion with middle trapezius activity exceeding 100% maximal voluntary contraction.

Conclusions: The scapular stabilizers functioned at a similar or higher intensity than the glenohumeral rotators during internal and external rotation. This highlights the importance of training the scapular stabilizers in upper extremity athletes and in patients with shoulder pathology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Rotation
  • Rotator Cuff / physiology*
  • Scapula / physiology*
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology*