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Scapula: want to learn more about it?

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Scapula

The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, is a flat triangular bone located at the back of the trunk and resides over the posterior surface of ribs two to seven. The scapula, along with the clavicle and the manubrium of the sternum, make up the pectoral (shoulder) girdle which connects the upper limb of the appendicular skeleton to the axial skeleton.

The scapula is an important bone as each scapula provides a point of attachment for a number of muscles that make up the arm and shoulder. It also articulates with the humerus and clavicle, forming the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint and acromioclavicular joint respectively. However, because the medial aspect of the scapula is not directly attached to the axial skeleton, but is rather held in place and connected to the thorax and vertebral column by muscles, the scapula can move freely across the posterior thoracic wall (scapulothoracic joint). This allows the arm to move with the scapula, providing a wide range of movement and mobility for the upper limb compared to the lower limb.

Key facts
Borders Superior, lateral and medial
Angles Lateral, superior and inferior
Surfaces Anterior: subscapular fossa
Posterior: supraspinous fossa, spine, infraspinous fossa
Processes Coracoid, acromion
Muscles that originate from scapula Deltoid, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, triceps brachii (long head), teres minor, teres major, latissimus dorsi, coracobrachialis, biceps brachii, subscapularis, omohyoid muscles
Muscles that insert on the scapula Trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, serratus anterior, pectoralis minor muscles
Vascularization Suprascapular, posterior circumlex humeral, circumflex scapular, transverse cervical arteries
Clinical relations Scapulothoracic dysfunction, scapulothoracic instability, scapular dysplasia, snapping scapula syndrome, fractures

All of the important anatomical landmarks of the scapula, together with the clinical conditions that may affect it, will be described in this article.

Bony landmarks

Borders and angles

Like any triangle, the scapula consists of three borders: superior, lateral and medial. The superior border is the shortest and thinnest border of the three. The medial border is a thin border and runs parallel to the vertebral column and is therefore often called the vertebral border. The lateral border is often called the axillary border as it runs superolaterally towards the apex of the axilla. It is the thickest and strongest of the three borders for muscle attachment. It also has the glenoid cavity or socket along this border, a shallow fossa which articulates with the head of the humerus, forming the glenohumeral joint.

There are also three angles to the scapula. The superior border meets the lateral border at the lateral angle and with the medial border at the superior angle. The third angle is the inferior angle where the medial and lateral borders meet.

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Surfaces

The scapula has two surfaces; on the anterior aspect is the smooth costal surface, which is concave in shape and is majorly taken up by the subscapular fossa. At the back of the scapula is the convex and uneven posterior surface which has a protruding ridge of bone (spine of the scapula) that unevenly separates it into two divisions: the superior supraspinous fossa and the much bigger, inferior infraspinous fossa.

Processes

Along with the spine, there are two more processes: the coracoid and acromion process. The coracoid process is a beak-like bent that projects anterolaterally from the superior border.

Inferior to the coracoid process is the glenoid cavity. Superiorly lies the lateral part of the clavicle and medial to the coracoid process is the suprascapular notch (for nerve passage) which connects the base of the coracoid process to the superior border. The coracoid process allows the attachment of various muscles and ligaments.

The ligaments of the coracoid process are:

  • Coracohumeral ligament - to the greater tubercle of the humerus
  • Coracoclavicular ligament - to the clavicle
  • Coracoacromial ligament - to the acromion process

The acromion process is a palpable lateral and enlarged extension of the posterior spine of the scapula which projects anterolaterally to the spine. It arches over the glenohumeral joint and articulates with the lateral acromial end of the clavicle to make up the synovial acromioclavicular joint. This joint is supported by the acromioclavicular ligament which attaches to the acromion process at one end and the clavicle at the other.

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Blood supply

Several arteries form an anastomosis to supply blood to the posterior scapular region:

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Muscles

Due to the large surface area of the scapula there are a large number of muscles attached (17 in total) which fix the scapula to the thoracic wall and allow it to move. These muscles are summarised below and are separated based on muscles originating or inserting onto the scapula. Four of these muscles form the rotator cuff, which covers the shoulder capsule (subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor and supraspinatus). 

Originating from the scapula

  • Deltoid muscle – it originates inferiorly along the scapula spine to the acromion (and lateral third of the clavicle). Its actions include flexion and medial rotation (anterior fibres), abduction (middle fibres), extension and lateral rotation (posterior fibres) at the shoulder joint. It is innervated by the axillary nerve
  • Supraspinatus muscle – it originates from supraspinous fossa. It is responsible for abduction at the shoulder joint and it is innervated by the suprascapular nerve. 
  • Infraspinatus muscle – it originates from the infraspinous fossa. Its action involves lateral rotation at the shoulder joint. The muscle is also innervated by the suprascapular nerve. 
  • Triceps brachii muscle (long head) – its origin is the infraglenoid tubercle found on the lateral border, inferior to the glenoid cavity. It is responsible for elbow extension and it is innervated by the radial nerve.
  • Teres minor muscle – it originates from the lateral border of the posterior surface. Its action consists of lateral rotation at the shoulder joint. This muscle is innervated by the axillary nerve.
  • Teres major muscle – its origins are the posterior surface of the inferior angle and the lower part of the lateral border. Its role is to perform adduction and medial rotation at the shoulder joint. It is innervated by the subscapular nerve.
  • Latissimus dorsi muscle – it originates from the inferior angle (inconstant). It performs a variety of actions, such as adduction, extension and medial rotation at the shoulder joint. It receives its innervation via the thoracodorsal nerve.
  • Coracobrachialis muscle – its origin is the coracoid process. Its actions include adduction and flexion at the shoulder joint. It is innervated by the musculocutaneous nerve.
  • Biceps brachii muscle (long and short head) – the long head originates from the supraglenoid tubercle, while the short head from the coracoid process. This muscle is responbile for elbow flexion. It is innervated by the musculocutaneous nerve.
  • Subscapularis muscle – it originates from the subscapular fossa. It performs adduction and medial rotation at the shoulder joint. The subscapular nerve innervates it.
  • Omohyoid muscle – its origin is the superior border (adjacent to the suprascapular notch) and causes depression of hyoid bone. It is innervated via the Ansa cervicalis (from cervical plexus). 

Inserting on the scapula

  • Trapezius muscle – it inserts superiorly along the spine, acromion process, and clavicle. Its actions include elevation of the scapula and rotation of scapula during abduction of humerus beyond 90 degrees. It is innervated by the accessory nerve.
  • Levator scapulae muscle – they insert into the superior angle and medial border (superior to the spine). Their roles are to elevation the scapula. They are innervation by branches of C3-C5.
  • Rhomboid major muscle – its insertion is the medial border (inferior to the spine). This muscle performs elevation and retraction of scapula and it is innervated by the dorsal scapular nerve.
  • Rhomboid minor muscle – it inserts above the scapular spine. It performs actions like elevation and retraction of the scapula. It is supplied via the dorsal scapular nerve. 
  • Serratus anterior muscle – its insertion is along the medial border, from the superior angle to the inferior angle. This muscle protracts and rotates the scapula. It is innervated by the long thoracic nerve.
  • Pectoralis minor muscle – it inserts into the coracoid process. Its actions consist of protraction and depression of the scapula. The muscle is innervated by the medial pectoral nerve.

Mnemonic

Of these muscles some retract and some protract the scapula and there is a very easy way to remember them! 

PRotraction -  Pectoralis minor & seRRatus anterior
ReTraction - Rhomboid & horizontal and lower fibres of Trapezius

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Scapula: want to learn more about it?

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