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Shoulder muscles: want to learn more about it?

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Shoulder muscles

Muscles of the shoulder : Anterior view

The muscles of the shoulder support and provide the movements of the shoulder girdle. They attach the appendicular skeleton of the upper limb to the axial skeleton of the trunk. Four of them are found on the anterior side of the shoulder, whereas the rest are located on the shoulder’s posterior side and in the back

Taking all these facts into account, we group shoulder muscles into:

  • Anterior axio-appendicular muscles (thoraco-appendicular muscles) 
  • Posterior axio-appendicular muscles (scapulo-humeral muscles) 
Muscles of the shoulder
Anterior axio-appendicular muscles Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, subclavius and serratus anterior
Posterior axio-appendicular muscles Extrinsic muscles: trapezius, latissimus dorsi, levator scapulae, rhomboids
Intrinsic muscles: deltoid, teres major, rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis)

This page will introduce you to the anatomy of the shoulder muscles in an easy-to-read mode, just like anatomy students prefer most.

Anterior axio-appendicular shoulder muscles

Shoulder and arm muscles: Diagram

Recommended video: Muscles of the shoulder
Attachments, innervation and functions of the muscles of the shoulder joint.

Anterior shoulder muscles, also called the pectoral muscles, attach the upper extremity to the clavicle and the thoracic cage. These muscles include the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, subclavius and the serratus anterior muscle. All of them are supplied by the respective branches of the brachial plexus.

Here is the shoulder anatomy starter pack for you.

Pectoralis major

The pectoralis major muscle covers the anterior thoracic cage. It has three heads; clavicular, sternocostal and abdominal. Its clavicular head originates from the anterior surface of the medial half of the clavicle. The sternocostal head originates from the anterior surface of the sternum and rib cartilages 1-6, while its abdominal head originates from the anterior layer of the rectus sheath

By inserting into the lateral lip of the intertubercular sulcus of the humerus, it enables adduction and internal rotation of the arm. Also, it draws the scapula anteroinferiorly. The pectoralis major muscle is innervated by the lateral and medial pectoral nerves.

Learn more about the pectoralis major here.

Pectoralis minor

The pectoralis minor lies underneath the pectoralis major muscle. It originates at the rib cartilages 3-5 and inserts to the medial border and the coracoid process of the scapula. The medial pectoral nerve supplies the muscle. The pectoralis minor draws the scapula anteroinferiorly and anchors it to the thoracic cage.

Expand your knowledge about pectoralis minor muscle with this article, video tutorial and clinical case.

Subclavius

The subclavius muscle originates at the cartilage and the sternal end of the 1st rib. It inserts at the anteroinferior surface of the middle part of the clavicle. The nerve to the subclavius supplies this muscle. Its functions are to depress and hold the clavicle in position. 

Find out more about this tiny but important muscle here.

Serratus anterior

The serratus anterior muscle is divided into three parts which differ in origins and insertions; superior, middle and inferior. 

  • Superior part - originates from the ribs 1-2 and intercostal fascia; inserts to the anterior and posterior surface of superior angle of scapula
  • Middle part -  originates from the ribs 3-6; inserts to the anterior surface of the entire medial border of the scapula 
  • Inferior part - originates from the ribs 7-8/9/10 and the external oblique muscle; inserts at the anterior and posterior surfaces of the inferior angle of scapula

The long thoracic nerve supplies the serratus anterior. Its functions are to draw scapula anterolaterally, to suspend scapula on thoracic wall and to rotate scapula (draws inferior angle laterally).

Solidify your knowledge about the serratus anterior anatomy and function with our study materials.

Posterior axio-appendicular shoulder muscles

Posterior shoulder muscles and back muscles: Overview

The posterior axio-appendicular muscles are divided into two groups; extrinsic and intrinsic. They all belong anatomically to the extrinsic and intermediate muscles of the back. Extrinsic muscles are further subdivided into superficial and deep layers. The former contains the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscle, while the latter houses the levator scapulae and rhomboid muscles. 

The intrinsic muscles of the posterior group include the deltoid, teres major and the muscles of the rotator cuff. Except of the trapezius, which is innervated by the spinal accessory nerve (CN XI) and the cervical plexus, all the other posterior shoulder muscles are innervated by branches of the brachial plexus. 

Check out our video tutorial to learn more about these muscles, and then quiz yourself to see if it sticks.

Extrinsic muscles

Trapezius

The trapezius muscle is a large muscle that defines the nuchal region. It has three parts; descending, transverse and ascending. Same as in serratus anterior, the parts have different origins and insertions.

  • The descending part originates at the medial third of the superior nuchal line, external occipital protuberance, spinous processes of cervical vertebrae or nuchal ligament. It inserts to the lateral third of clavicle.
  • The transverse part originates from the broad aponeurosis at spinous processes of vertebrae T1-T4 (or C7-T3), while it inserts to the medial aspect of the acromion and to the superior crest of spine of scapula.
  • The ascending part originates from the spinous processes of vertebrae T5-T12 (or T2-T12), and inserts to the medial end of spine of scapula.

The muscle is innervated by the branches of the spinal accessory nerve (CN XI) and the anterior rami of spinal nerves C3-C4 via the cervical plexus.
The trapezius functions are also part-specific. The descending part draws scapula superomedially, extends and laterally flexes the head and neck and rotates the head. The transverse part draws scapula medially, while the ascending parts draws it inferomedially. 

Learn the anatomy of the trapezius muscle with Kenhub’s study materials.

Latissimus dorsi

Latissimus dorsi is another large muscle at the posterior shoulder area. You already assume that this one also has some parts, and you’re correct; there are four parts of this muscle. They are the vertebral, iliac, costal and scapular. 

  • The vertebral part originates from the spinous processes of vertebrae T7-S1 and the thoracolumbar fascia.
  • The iliac part originates at the posterior third of the crest of the ilium, a part of the bony pelvis.
  • The costal part originates from the ribs 9-12, while the scapular part originates from the inferior angle of scapula. All parts converge and insert together to the intertubercular sulcus of humerus.

The muscle is innervated by the thoracodorsal nerve. Its functions are the adduction, internal rotation and extension of the arm, while it also assists in the respiration.

Want more about the latissimus dorsi? We have a couple of useful links for you.

Levator scapulae

The levator scapulae originates from the transverse processes of the vertebrae C1-C4. Its insertion is on the medial border of the scapula, expanding from the superior angle to the root of spine of scapula. It is supplied by the anterior rami of spinal nerves and dorsal scapular nerve.

The functions of the levator scapulae include the lateral flexion of the neck (ipsilateral), drawing the scapula superomedially and rotation of the glenoid cavity inferiorly.

Expand your anatomy knowledge about this muscle here.

Rhomboids

There are two rhomboid muscles; rhomboid minor and rhomboid major. The rhomboid minor muscle originates from the nuchal ligament and the spinous processes of the vertebrae C7-T1 and inserts to the root of the spine of scapula. The rhomboid major originates from the spinous processes of T2-T5 vertebrae and inserts to the medial border of the scapula from inferior angle to root of spine of scapula.

The dorsal scapular nerve innervates both muscles, and they both share functions of drawing scapula superomedially, rotating the glenoid cavity inferiorly and supporting the position of scapula.

Ready for more about the rhomboids? Check out our article.

Intrinsic muscles

Deltoid muscle

The deltoid muscle has three parts; the clavicular, acromial and spinal part. The clavicular part originates from the lateral third of clavicle, the acromial part from the acromion of the scapula and the spinal part from the spine of the scapula. They all insert to the deltoid tuberosity.

The axillary nerve supplies the muscle. The functions of the deltoid muscle are related to the shoulder joint and include the arm flexion, arm internal rotation (clavicular part), arm abduction (acromial part), arm extension and arm lateral rotation (spinal part).

Learn more about the deltoid muscle with our resources.

Teres major

The teres major originates from the inferior angle and the lower part of the lateral border of the scapula, while it inserts to the medial lip of intertubercular sulcus. The lower subscapular or thoracodorsal nerves supplies it. The functions of the teres major are the arm adduction and arm internal rotation.

To learn more about the teres major anatomy, check out our article and video tutorial.

Rotator cuff

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that enclose the glenohumeral joint by forming the cuff around it. You can easily remember them with the mnemonic SITS, which stands for Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, and the Subscapularis muscles. 

They are innervated by the suprascapular (supraspinatus and infraspinatus), axillary (teres minor) and upper and lower subscapular nerves (subscapularis). Acting together, the rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulder joint. These muscles produce a large spectrum of arm movements which include internal and external arm rotation, arm abduction and arm adduction.

Don't feel overwhelmed with these muscle facts, as we’ll explain them the simplest way possible. To make your student life even easier, we’ve created these muscle anatomy reference charts for you.

Dive into the rotator cuff anatomy with Kenhub’s article and video.

Shoulder muscles: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,177,151 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Drake, R. L., Vogl, A. W., & Mitchell, A. W. M. (2015). Gray's Anatomy for Students (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Moore, K. L., Dalley, A. F., & Agur, A. M. R. (2014). Clinically Oriented Anatomy (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Article, review and layout:

  • Jana Vasković
  • Dimitrios Mytilinaios

Illustrations:

  • Shoulder muscles (anterior view) - Yousun Koh
  • Shoulder muscles (diagram) - Yousun Koh
  • Posterior shoulder muscles and back muscles (diagram) - Yousun Koh
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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