Scapular Winging: A Great Masquerader of Shoulder Disorders

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Abstract

Background:

The incidence of scapular winging is unclear, but it may be more common than previously thought. It can be difficult to diagnose because the presenting complaint and physical examination may direct the practitioner toward more common shoulder and neck conditions. Ongoing scapular dysfunction may result in inappropriate or failed surgery. Our goals were to (1) describe the common misdiagnoses (instability, labral abnormality, impingement, and cervical spine disease), the clinical scenarios and examination findings leading to diagnostic difficulty, the definitive treatment options available, and the clinical outcomes and complications; and (2) review the important aspects of the patient history, physical examination of the scapula, and associated studies necessary to make the correct diagnosis of scapular winging.

Methods:

We reviewed the literature relative to, and our own experience with, the treatment of scapular winging and identified a series of patients with this condition who were initially misdiagnosed with other shoulder or spine abnormalities. In our literature search, only nine clinical studies reported on a series of patients with scapular winging that was initially misdiagnosed or had a delay in diagnosis (n = 53 patients). We examined these cases for presenting or preexisting diagnoses and for surgical procedures that had been performed before the diagnosis of scapular winging.

Results:

For patients ultimately diagnosed with scapular winging, initial presentations and diagnoses included rotator cuff disorders (20%), glenohumeral instability (8%), peripheral nerve disorders (6%), cervical spine disease (6%), acromioclavicular disorders (6%), thoracic outlet syndrome (4%), and unknown or unspecified (41%). The most common surgical procedures performed before definitive scapular winging treatment were rotator cuff (22%), instability (22%), nerve (14%), acromioclavicular (12%), cervical spine (5%), and thoracic outlet (4%) procedures.

Conclusions:

Clinically, scapular winging often mimics more common shoulder abnormalities and can result in unnecessary or unsuccessful surgical procedures. Diagnosis can be readily achieved with simple physical examination and specific provocative maneuvers in conjunction with electromyography and nerve conduction studies. Prompt diagnosis and recognition can avoid substantial shoulder dysfunction.

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