Anatomy, Etiology, and Management of Scapular Winging

J Hand Surg Am. 2019 Apr;44(4):321-330. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsa.2018.08.008. Epub 2018 Oct 3.


Scapular winging is a painful and debilitating condition. The composite scapular motion of rotation, abduction, and tilting is necessary for proper shoulder function. Weakness or loss of scapular mechanics can lead to difficulties with elevation of the arm and lifting objects. The most common causes reported in the literature for scapular winging are dysfunction of the serratus anterior from long thoracic nerve injury causing medial winging or dysfunction of the trapezius from spinal accessory nerve injury causing lateral winging. Most reviews and teaching focus on these etiologies. However, acute traumatic tears of the serratus anterior, trapezius, and rhomboids off of the scapula are important and under-recognized causes of scapular winging and dysfunction. This article will review the relevant anatomy, etiology, clinical evaluation, diagnostic testing, and treatment of scapular winging. It will also discuss the differences in diagnosis and management between scapular winging arising from neurogenic causes and traumatic muscular detachment.

Keywords: Rhomboids; scapular dyskinesis; scapular winging; serratus anterior; trapezius.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accessory Nerve Injuries / physiopathology
  • Accessory Nerve Injuries / surgery
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / injuries
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / surgery
  • Neural Conduction
  • Orthopedic Procedures
  • Paralysis / physiopathology
  • Paralysis / therapy
  • Physical Examination
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Scapula / anatomy & histology
  • Scapula / diagnostic imaging
  • Scapula / physiopathology*
  • Scapula / surgery
  • Thoracic Nerves / injuries
  • Thoracic Nerves / surgery