How Do Scapulothoracic Kinematics During Shoulder Elevation Differ Between Adults With and Without Rotator Cuff Arthropathy?

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2020 Nov;478(11):2640-2649. doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000001406.


Background: Rotator cuff arthropathy with loss of active arm elevation can be successfully treated with nonanatomic reverse total shoulder arthroplasty to restore active elevation. Shoulder kinematics in this context predominantly focus on glenohumeral motion, neglecting scapular motion, although both substantially contribute to global shoulder motion. Because scapular kinematics are difficult to assess clinically and in the laboratory, they are not well understood and therefore are often reduced to glenohumeral models with a static scapula.

Questions/purposes: (1) Does the scapulohumeral rhythm (scapular rotation/glenohumeral elevation ratio) change during arm elevation? (2) Is there any scapular motion before arm elevation becomes clinically visible? (3) How do scapulothoracic kinematics during shoulder elevation differ between adults with and without rotator cuff arthropathy?

Methods: This was a comparative kinematics study of 20 young adult volunteers (reference group) without rotator cuff impairment (seven females, 13 males; mean age: 27 ± 3.5 years) and 20 patients (22 shoulders) with cuff tear arthropathy (10 females, 10 males; mean age: 74 ± 6.2 years). We used a three-dimensional (3-D) motion analysis system from Vicom with eight high-speed infrared cameras (frame rate 200 Hz) and 25 skin markers. Kinematics were studied for scapulothoracic and glenohumeral movements using the Upper Limb Evaluation in Movement Analysis (ULEMA) open-source model. The main motion studied was active arm elevation in the scapular plane. After data cleaning, modeling, and normalization, changes of scapulohumeral rhythm and scapular motion at the beginning of arm elevation were analyzed qualitatively, and statistical parametric mapping was applied to study the difference in scapulothoracic kinematics between adults with and without rotator cuff arthropathy.

Results: The scapular rhythm changes continuously during elevation. Whereas in people without rotator cuff arthropathy, a homogenous proportional relative angular contribution between 85° and 120° could be observed, this regular pattern was disturbed in patients with rotator cuff arthropathy. We observed medial scapular rotation before arm elevation became visible, followed by low lateral or even medial scapular rotation (approximately up to 25°) at the beginning of arm elevation. Patients with rotator cuff arthropathy exhibited more scapulothoracic motion between 50° and 93° of elevation than the reference group.

Conclusions: Our study introduces a double-normalized data analysis that allows for a more detailed assessment of complex scapular kinematics in a noninvasive way. Scapulothoracic motion is more complex than previously reported, especially in patients with rotator cuff arthropathy. The scapulohumeral rhythm changes dynamically throughout arm elevation. There is counter-directed scapular rotation because of muscular engagement before clinically visible arm elevation. Compared with the homogenous shoulder kinematics in the reference group, patients with rotator cuff arthropathy show a different pattern with predominantly scapular motion in the range between 50° and 93° of arm elevation.

Clinical relevance: The findings of this study suggest that there is a specific pattern of scapular motion during arm elevation in patients with rotator cuff arthropathy. Our study introduces a new noninvasive method that allows for simultaneous analysis of glenohumeral and scapular kinematics. This will enable to investigators explore whether active arm elevation and the physiological motion pattern can be restored after, for example, reverse total shoulder arthroplasty despite a nonanatomic prosthesis configuration.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Shoulder*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / surgery*
  • Scapula / physiopathology*
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult