The shoulder is the most flexible joint in the body that enables a wide range of movements including forward flexion, abduction, adduction, external rotation, internal rotation, and 360-degree circumduction. Thus, the shoulder joint is considered the most insecure joint of the body, but the support of ligaments, muscles, and tendons function to provide the required stability.
Bones of the Shoulder
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint made up of three bones, namely the humerus, scapula, and clavicle.
The end of the humerus or upper arm bone forms the ball of the shoulder joint. An irregular shallow cavity in the scapula called the glenoid cavity forms the socket for the head of the humerus to fit in. The two bones together form the glenohumeral joint, which is the main joint of the shoulder.
Scapula and Clavicle
The scapula is a flat triangular-shaped bone that forms the shoulder blade. It serves as the site of attachment for most of the muscles that provide movement and stability to the joint. The scapula has four bony processes - acromion, spine, coracoid and glenoid cavity. The acromion and coracoid process serve as places for attachment of the ligaments and tendons.
The clavicle bone or collarbone is an S-shaped bone that connects the scapula to the sternum or breastbone. It forms two joints: the acromioclavicular joint, where it articulates with the acromion process of the scapula and the sternoclavicular joint where it articulates with the sternum or breast bone. The clavicle also forms a protective covering for important nerves and blood vessels that pass under it from the spine to the arms.
Soft Tissues of the Shoulder
The ends of all articulating bones are covered by smooth tissue called articular cartilage, which allows the bones to slide over each other without friction, enabling smooth movement. Articular cartilage reduces pressure and acts as a shock absorber during movement of the shoulder bones. Extra stability to the glenohumeral joint is provided by the glenoid labrum, a ring of fibrous cartilage that surrounds the glenoid cavity. The glenoid labrum increases the depth and surface area of the glenoid cavity to provide a more secure fit for the half-spherical head of the humerus.
Ligaments of the Shoulder
Ligaments are thick strands of fibers that connect one bone to another. The ligaments of the shoulder joint include:
Coracoclavicular ligaments: These ligaments connect the collarbone to the shoulder blade at the coracoid process.
- Acromioclavicular ligament: This connects the collarbone to the shoulder blade at the acromion process.
- Coracoacromial ligament: It connects the acromion process to the coracoid process.
- Glenohumeral ligaments: A group of 3 ligaments that form a capsule around the shoulder joint and connect the head of the arm bone to the glenoid cavity of the shoulder blade. The capsule forms a watertight sac around the joint. Glenohumeral ligaments play a very important role in providing stability to the otherwise unstable shoulder joint by preventing dislocation.
Muscles of the Shoulder
The rotator cuff is the main group of muscles in the shoulder joint and is comprised of 4 muscles. The rotator cuff forms a sleeve around the humeral head and glenoid cavity, providing additional stability to the shoulder joint while enabling a wide range of mobility. The deltoid muscle forms the outer layer of the rotator cuff and is the largest and strongest muscle of the shoulder joint.
Tendons of the Shoulder
Tendons are strong tissues that join muscle to bone allowing the muscle to control the movement of the bone or joint. Two important groups of tendons in the shoulder joint are the biceps tendons and rotator cuff tendons.
Bicep tendons are the two tendons that join the bicep muscle of the upper arm to the shoulder. They are referred to as the long head and short head of the bicep.
Rotator cuff tendons are a group of four tendons that join the head of the humerus to the deeper muscles of the rotator cuff. These tendons provide more stability and mobility to the shoulder joint.
Nerves of the Shoulder
Nerves carry messages from the brain to muscles to direct movement (motor nerves) and send information about different sensations such as touch, temperature, and pain from the muscles back to the brain (sensory nerves). The nerves of the arm pass through the shoulder joint from the neck. These nerves form a bundle at the region of the shoulder called the brachial plexus. The main nerves of the brachial plexus are the musculocutaneous, axillary, radial, ulnar and median nerves.
Blood vessels of the Shoulder
Blood vessels travel along with the nerves to supply blood to the arms. Oxygenated blood is supplied to the shoulder region by the subclavian artery that runs below the collarbone. As it enters the region of the armpit, it is called the axillary artery and further down the arm, it is called the brachial artery.
The main veins carrying de-oxygenated blood back to the heart for purification include:
- Axillary vein: This vein drains into the subclavian vein.
- Cephalic vein: This vein is found in the upper arm and branches at the elbow into the forearm region. It drains into the axillary vein.
- Basilic vein: This vein runs opposite the cephalic vein, near the triceps muscle. It drains into the axillary vein.
AC joint dislocation is the separation of the collar bone or clavicle from the acromion (the top portion of the shoulder blade or scapula at the outer edge of the shoulder) due to severe trauma or injury. AC joint dislocation usually occurs as a result of a direct fall on to the top of the shoulder which causes the shoulder blade to be forced downwards and the collarbone to pop up. It is most commonly seen in individuals involved in sports such as mountain biking, rugby, football, snowboarding, motocross, and horse riding.
Calcification tendinitis is a problem with the shoulder’s tendons and muscles. This condition occurs due to the formation of calcium deposits in the tendons (tissue which attaches muscle to bone) of the rotator cuff (a group of muscles and tendons stabilizing the shoulder). This calcium build-up causes inflammation of the tissues surrounding it, and intense shoulder pain. The space between the rotator cuff and the acromion (outer bony end of the shoulder blade) is also reduced due to the calcium deposits, affecting the normal functioning of the rotator cuff.
Little league shoulder is an injury to the growth plate of the upper arm bone at the shoulder joint of children. It is an overuse injury caused by repeated pitching or throwing, especially in children between the ages of 10 to 15 years. This condition is mostly seen in baseball pitchers, but children in other sports who use improper throwing action are also at risk.
A rotator cuff is a group of tendons in the shoulder joint that provides support and enables a wide range of motion. A major injury to these tendons may result in rotator cuff tears. It is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain in middle-aged and older individuals.
Sports that involve overhead movements and repeated use of the shoulder at your workplace may lead to sliding of the upper arm bone from the glenoid. The dislocation might be a partial dislocation (subluxation) or a complete dislocation causing pain and shoulder joint instability. The shoulder joint often dislocates in the forward direction (anterior instability), and sometimes in the backward or downward direction.
Shoulder ligament injuries are injuries to the tough elastic tissues present around the shoulder that connect bones to each other and stabilize the joint. The ligaments present in the shoulder are connected to the ends of the scapula, humerus, and clavicle bones which form the shoulder complex. The extensive stretching or tearing of these ligaments from acute or chronic injuries can lead to instability in the shoulder joint.
Shoulder bursitis, also known as subacromial bursitis, is a condition characterized by pain and inflammation in the bursa of the shoulder. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac present between the bone and soft tissue that acts as a cushion and helps to reduce friction during movement.
Shoulder tendonitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the tendons which connect the muscles to the shoulder bones. Tendonitis of the rotator cuff tendons is known as rotator cuff tendonitis. If the biceps tendon is affected, the condition is known as bicipital tendonitis.
The term arthritis means inflammation of a joint and is associated with cartilage damage. Cartilage is a cushioned padding lining the bones that make up a joint in order to absorb stress during movement. Damage of the cartilage in the sternoclavicular joint of the shoulder causes sternoclavicular arthritis. When the cartilage is damaged, the two bones rub against each other causing pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joint. This condition is called arthritis. There are many types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis (wear-and-tear brought about by old age) is the most common form of arthritis that affects the sternoclavicular joint.
The sternoclavicular joint, commonly called the SC joint, is located between the breastbone (sternum) and the collarbone (clavicle). Sternoclavicular joint injuries can occur due to severe trauma or direct blows to the body as seen in motor vehicle accidents or in contact sports, where there is stretching or tearing of the supporting ligaments, and sometimes even fractures or dislocations.
The shoulder is a highly mobile ball and socket joint. The ball of the upper arm bone (humerus) is held in place at the socket (glenoid) of the shoulder blade (scapula) by a group of ligaments. A partial dislocation of the shoulder joint is termed as a subluxation. This means the ball has partially moved out of the glenoid as opposed to a dislocation, where the ball completely moves out of the glenoid.
Shoulder impingement syndrome is a common condition seen in athletes and individuals who perform a lot of overhead arm movements. This activity results in irritation of the rotator cuff tendon as it repeatedly rubs against the acromion, which is the bony process of the shoulder blade.
The shoulder is prone to different kinds of injuries and inflammatory conditions. An intraarticular shoulder injection is a minimally invasive procedure to treat pain and improve shoulder movement. It may be performed with the help of ultrasound or fluoroscopic imaging which allows your physician to precisely target the intraarticular space.
An ultrasound is a common imaging technique that employs high-frequency sound waves to create images of organs and other internal structures of the body. These images provide valuable information about the underlying pathology of tissues and assists with diagnosis and planning the treatment of a condition. The ultrasound provides a clear view of organs, tendons, muscles and joints, and any associated disorders.
Viscosupplementation is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the injection of a hyaluronic acid preparation into the shoulder to treat arthritis. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance which is present in the joint fluid that acts as a shock absorber and enhances lubrication.