Scapular muscle dysfunction associated with subacromial pain syndrome

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Study Design:

Narrative Review.


One of the shoulder pain disorders in which the function of the scapula is comprised is the subacromial pain syndrome. Several rehabilitation guidelines and exercises have been proposed to improve scapulothoracic muscle dysfunction. Consideration of muscle activation patterns may help to select the most appropriate rehabilitation exercise in these patients. To date, suggesting rehabilitation exercises is often based upon the knowledge of the superficial lying scapulothoracic muscles’ activity. In the assumption that the deeper lying scapulothoracic muscles’ activity may hinder normal scapular movement in case of tightness or hyperactivity, exercise protocols for patients with altered pattern in scapulothoracic muscles should also integrate knowledge on the deeper lying scapulothoracic muscle activity.

Purpose of the Study:

To help clinicians choosing the most appropriate exercise in patients with subacromial pain syndrome related to scapulothoracic muscle dysfunction.


First, a summary of key alterations in scapulothoracic (muscle) function in patients with subacromial pain was accomplished. Second, promising practical rehabilitation strategies toward restoring scapulothoracic muscle dysfunction (with a focus on scapulothoracic exercises) were developed, integrating current new research evidence (including information about the deeper lying scapulothoracic muscles) with clinical practice.


This review details clinical exercises and their muscular activity to guide clinicians to optimize individualized scapulothoracic training and treatment programs by selecting the most appropriate exercise, based on knowledge from the clinical examination.

Level of Evidence:

Level 5.

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