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Arm and shoulder anatomy

Recommended video: Muscles of the arm and shoulder [15:58]
Origins and insertions of the muscles of the arm and shoulder.
Upper extremity (anterior view)

The upper limb is essential for our daily functioning. It enables us to grip, write, lift and throw, among many other movements. The upper limb has been shaped by evolution into a highly mobile part of the human body. 
It consists of four major segments, which are further subdivided into regions for precise description: 

In this page, we are going to study shoulder and arm anatomy

Key facts about the anatomy of the shoulder and arm
Bones Clavicle, scapula, humerus
Muscles Superficial: deltoid, trapezius
Rotator cuff muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis
Arm: brachialis, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, coracobrachialis
Others: teres major, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, latissimus dorsi, brachialis, biceps brachii, triceps brachii
Nerves Suprascapular and axillary nerves, which originate from the brachial plexus.
Arteries Axillary and brachial arteries
Veins Brachial, basilic and cephalic veins
  1. Glenohumeral joint
  2. Bones
  3. Muscles
  4. Nerves
  5. Arteries and veins
  6. Sources
  7. Related articles
+ Show all

Glenohumeral joint

The glenohumeral joint is one of the joints associated with the shoulder girdle that allow a full range of movement of the upper limb . It is simply the articulation between the laterally projecting glenoid fossa (depression), or glenoid cavity, of the scapula and the head of the humerus.

Learn everything about this important joint by diving into the following learning materials.


The shoulder is the region where the upper limb is attached to the trunk. The bones of the shoulder are:

  • the clavicle
  • the scapula
  • the humerus

Test your knowledge of the clavicle, scapula and humerus with our labeled diagram exercises and quizzes!

The humerus is the bone of the arm that articulates with the scapula proximally and with the radius and the ulna distally. Immerse yourself with the following learning materials to learn everything about the bones of the arm.


The two most superficial muscles of the shoulder are the deltoid and the trapezius muscles. These muscles provide the shoulder with its characteristic contour.

Test your knowledge on the muscles of the arm and shoulder with this quiz.

Another group of muscles that is quite important for this region is the rotator cuff muscles. This group consists of 4 muscles: the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis.

Remember the rotator cuff muscles easily using the following mnemonic!

Rotator cuff SITS on the shoulder

  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres minor
  • Subscapularis

The rotator cuff anatomy is presented in the following table.

Key facts about the rotator cuff muscles
Supraspinatus muscle Origin: supraspinous fossa of scapula
Insertion: greater tubercle of the humerus
Innervation: suprascapular nerve (C5, C6)
Function: initiation of abduction of arm  to 15° at glenohumeral/shoulder joint, stabilizes humeral head in glenoid cavity
Infraspinatus muscle Origin: infraspinatous fossa
Insertion: greater tubercle of humerus
Innervation: suprascapular nerve (C5, C6)
Function: external rotation of the arm at glenohumeral/shoulder joint, stabilizes humeral head in glenoid cavity
Teres minor muscle Origin: lateral border of scapula
Insertion: greater tubercle of humerus
Innervation: axillary nerve (C5, C6)
Function: external rotation of the arm at the glenohumeral/shoulder joint, stabilizes humeral head in glenoid cavity
Subscapularis muscle Origin: subscapular fossa
Insertion: lesser tubercle of humerus
Innervation: upper and lower subscapular nerves (C5-C6)
Function: internal rotation of the arm at glenohumeral/shoulder joint, stabilizes humeral head in glenoid cavity
Mnemonic Rotator cuff SITS on the shoulder
(Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, Subscapularis)

Besides the rotator cuff, there are also other muscles that are important for the movements of the upper limb and are located in the region of the shoulder and arm: 

Take a look at the bottom of the page for an arm muscles diagram and use our quizzes and videos in the following page to learn everything about those muscles. 


The nerves in this area originate from the brachial plexus. The plexus is made by the merging of the anterior branches of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th cervical nerves (C5-C8) with participation of the anterior branch of the first thoracic spinal nerve (T1). 

In the shoulder and arm, the brachial plexus gives rise to two nerves:

When the brachial plexus is injured, these nerves are affected and some interesting clinical syndromes can be observed. 

Arteries and veins

The main artery in the shoulder is the axillary artery. This artery begins at the lateral border of the 1st rib, as the continuation of the subclavian artery, and ends at the inferior border of the teres major. It passes posterior to the pectoralis minor into the arm and becomes the brachial artery when it passes the inferior border of the teres major. The axillary artery gives rise to all the arterial branches that provide blood to the shoulder and arm, as you can see in the following video and article. 

The venous drainage of the arm is a continuation of the venous system of the forearm. Specifically the main veins of this area are the deep brachial veins (deep veins that accompany the brachial artery), and the basilic and cephalic veins. All these veins drain finally to the subclavian veins.

You can learn more about the arteries and veins of the shoulder and arm with the following study units.

This quiz is specially designed to test your knowledge about the shoulder and arm. It specifically focuses on bones, muscles (including attachments, innervation, functions), arteries, veins, and nerves. Tackle it to cement and master the anatomy of the arm and shoulder!

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