The entire rotator cuff contributes to elevation of the arm

Neil A. Sharkey, Richard A. Marder, Peter B. Hanson

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104 Scopus citations


The function of the infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis during elevation of the arm remains poorly defined. These muscles may generate moments that contribute to abduction of the arm, although they frequently are classified as humeral depressors. The purposes of this study were to measure the contributions to abduction made by the more inferiorly positioned rotator cuff muscles relative to the contributions of the supraspinatus and to determine the range of motion at which the muscles are most effective. Five fresh cadaveric shoulder girdles were mounted in an apparatus designed to simulate contraction of the deltoid and rotator cuff while maintaining the normal relationship between glenohumeral and scapulothoracic motions. The deltoid force required for elevation was measured without simulated contraction of the rotator cuff and with simulated contraction of the entire rotator cuff, of the supraspinatus only, and of the infraspinatus‐teres minor and subscapularis only. A significant reduction in deltoid force when other muscle activity was added indicated that the additions contributed significantly to abduction. The deltoid force required with concurrent contraction of the entire rotator cuff averaged 41% less than with the deltoid alone but was not significantly different than with the deltoid and supraspinatus or with the deltoid, infraspinatus‐teres minor, and subscapularis. Concurrent application of forces to the supraspinatus or the infraspinatusteres minro and subscapularis significantly reduced the required deltoid force over the range of motion studied by an average of 28 and 36%, respectively. The contributions of the rotator cuff muscles to abduction of the arm were greatest at low abduction angles (30 and 60°) and were insignificant by 120°. The infraspinatus‐teres minor and subscapularis contribute significantly to abduction: their contibution was equal to that of the supraspinatus and, like the supraspinatus, they are most effective during the first 90° of abduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-708
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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