Dorsal scapular nerve
The dorsal scapular nerve is one of the lateral branches of the brachial plexus, arising from its root, specifically from the root of spinal nerve C5. Occasionally, it may arise from the superior trunk of the brachial plexus.
The dorsal scapular nerve is a motor nerve that provides innervation to the rhomboid major, rhomboid minor and levator scapulae muscles. Collectively, these muscles function to elevate and retract the scapula.
This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the dorsal scapular nerve.
|Anterior ramus of spinal nerve C5
|Rhomboid major, rhomboid minor and levator scapulae muscle
Origin and course
The dorsal scapular nerve arises just above the clavicle, from the proximal part of the anterior ramus of C5 spinal nerve. It pierces the scalenus medius muscle and descends between the levator scapulae on one side and serratus posterior superior and scalenus posterior muscles on the other side. It then runs across the medial scapular region, along the anterior border of the rhomboid muscles.
The dorsal scapular nerve is usually accompanied by either the dorsal scapular artery, or the deep branch of the transverse cervical artery.
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The dorsal scapular nerve provides motor innervation to the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor muscles. In addition, it supplies the levator scapulae muscle along with the branches arising from spinal nerves C3 and C4. The rhomboids serve to pull the scapula posteriorly medially towards the vertebral column, while the levator scapulae elevates the scapula.
The dorsal scapular nerve is only one of the many neurovascular structures of the arm and shoulder. Take the quiz below to find out if you have any weak spots and what you should study next!
Dorsal scapular nerve syndrome
Dorsal scapular nerve syndrome is most commonly caused by a compression of the nerve due to nerve entrapment, often seen in occupations which involve raising the arms over long periods of time (e.g. painters, electricians) and athletes. The entrapment is often located at the middle scalene muscle, because the nerve often pierces this muscle. Due to being the sole motor supply to the rhomboid muscles, an injury to the dorsal scapular nerve affects their function. This presents as a lateral displacement of the scapula on the affected side. In addition, patients report limited range of motion in their shoulders and sharp or aching pain along the medial border of the scapula that can radiate to the lateral aspect of the upper limb.
Dorsal scapular nerve: want to learn more about it?
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