Scapular stabilization in patients with spinal cord injury

Joshua M. Pahys, M. J. Mulcahey, David Hutchinson, Randal R. Betz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Severe scapular instability can be a considerable problem for people with high-level cervical spinal cord injury. Scapular instability reduces the effectiveness of the already weakened shoulder flexors and abductors, thereby limiting hand-to-mouth and hand-to-head activities. The winged scapula may cause inferior pole skin breakdown, as well as neck and shoulder pain. Objective: To report the efficacy of a fusionless scapular stabilization procedure as a means to enhance function in a consecutive group of patients with high-level cervical spinal cord injury. Methods: Four people with spinal cord injury at C4-C5 (2 male, 2 female; mean age = 17.3 years, range = 14-20 years) underwent scapular stabilization via scapulothoracic fusion (N = 2) or by tethering the scapula to the rib cage with Mersilene tape as a fusionless stabilization (N = 2). One patient died of unrelated causes 18 months after surgery, and the remaining 3 were followed for 26, 39, and 41 months, respectively. Data collection included radiographic analysis, active range of motion measures, and functional assessment. Results: Active shoulder flexion and abduction remained unchanged in 2 patients, but functional scores improved with regard to feeding and grooming capability. All patients reported satisfaction with postoperative appearance, and 3 patients reported considerable reduction in shoulder pain after surgery. Radiographs demonstrated maintenance of stable scapular alignment in all patients at final follow up. Wound breakdown, requiring removal of instrumentation, occurred in 2 patients. Conclusion: Scapular stabilization with or without fusion is a viable option to improve appearance, pain, and upper extremity function in people with high-level tetraplegia and scapular instability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-397
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Spinal Cord Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Activities of daily living
  • Scapulothoracic articulation
  • Scapulothoracic fusion
  • Scapulothoracic stabilization
  • Shoulder surgery
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Tetraplegia


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