Subscapularis tendinitis / subscapularis tendinosis / subscapularis tear
The subscapularis is one of the four rotator cuff muscles that work together to control the movements of the shoulder while ensuring that the humeral head does not move too far out of the socket. The subscapularis is the largest and strongest of the four muscles. Its main function is to rotate the upper arm inward. A subscapularis tendinopathy means that the tendon of the muscle is affected.
The condition produces symptoms along the front of the shoulder or in the armpit.
Description of condition
The subscapularis tendinopathy is usually caused by an inflamed subscapularis tendon (tendinitis) or degeneration of the tendon (tendinosis). The tendon is located along the front of the shoulder and attaches to the humeral head. When an affected subscapularis is contracted or stretched, this can produce symptoms as a result of tractive forces acting on the muscle or tendon. In some cases, a partial or complete rupture of the subscapularis tendon may occur.
Subscapularis injury can result in impingement syndrome, with the humeral head becoming trapped under the roof of the shoulder structure.
Cause and history
Symptoms may occur as a result of overloading, incorrect use or degeneration of the tendon. A full muscle or tendon rupture is only seen following an accident or fall, and is more common in older patients.
Signs & symptoms
The patient will complain about pain along the front of the shoulder (or in the armpit) and will struggle to lift up objects in front of his chest. Movements that require turning the upper arm inward will also result in symptoms. For example, the patient will struggle to place his hand on his back and then move his hand away from this position. Turning the upper arm outward can also produce pain symptoms in the final position, because the muscle and tendon are then fully extended.
The diagnosis is made using a number of physiotherapy tests. It is hard to distinguish between tendinosis and tendinitis. In some cases an ultrasound examination or MRI scan may be considered to image the subscapularis structures.
Most cases will involve tendinosis. This can be treated with eccentric strength exercises. Anti-inflammatory medication may be used for cases of tendinitis. Surgical stitching may be considered for a rupture. This is often not useful for older patients, as the risk of relapse following a rupture is too high.
Take a look at the carefully prepared exercise program here with exercises for subscapularis tendinopathy.
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Longo, U.G., Berton, A., Marinozzi, A., Maffulli, N. & Denaro V. (2012). Subscapularis tears. Med Sport Sci. 2012;57:114-21.
Nugteren, K. van & Winkel, D. (2007). Onderzoek en behandeling van de schouder. Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum.