Shoulder muscle function has been documented based on muscle moment arms, lines of action and muscle contributions to contact force at the glenohumeral joint. At present, however, the contributions of individual muscles to shoulder joint motion have not been investigated, and the effects of shoulder and elbow joint position on shoulder muscle function are not well understood. The aims of this study were to compute the contributions of individual muscles to motion of the glenohumeral joint during abduction, and to examine the effect of elbow flexion on shoulder muscle function. A three-dimensional musculoskeletal model of the upper limb was used to determine the contributions of 18 major muscles and muscle sub-regions of the shoulder to glenohumeral joint motion during abduction. Muscle function was found to depend strongly on both shoulder and elbow joint positions. When the elbow was extended, the middle and anterior deltoid and supraspinatus were the greatest contributors to angular acceleration of the shoulder in abduction. In contrast, when the elbow was flexed at 90°, the anterior deltoid and subscapularis were the greatest contributors to joint angular acceleration in abduction. This dependence of shoulder muscle function on elbow joint position is explained by the existence of dynamic coupling in multi-joint musculoskeletal systems. The extent to which dynamic coupling affects shoulder muscle function, and therefore movement control, is determined by the structure of the inverse mass matrix, which depends on the configuration of the joints. The data provided may assist in the diagnosis of abnormal shoulder function, for example, due to muscle paralysis or in the case of full-thickness rotator cuff tears.
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