Rotator cuff muscle architecture; implications for glenohumeral joint stability

Ward SR, Hentzen ER, Smallwood LH, Eastlack RK, Burns KA, Fithian DC, Fridén J, Lieber RL. Rotator cuff muscle architecture; implications for glenohumeral joint stability. Clin Orthop Rel Res 448:157-163, 2006.

We examined the architectural properties of the rotator cuff muscles in 10 cadaveric specimens to understand their functional design. Based on our data and previously published joint angle-muscle excursion data, sarcomere length operating ranges were modeled through all permutations in 75 masculine medial and lateral rotation and 75 masculine abduction at the glenohumeral joint. Based on physiologic cross-sectional area, the subscapularis would have the greatest force-producing capacity, followed by the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and teres minor. Based on fiber length, the supraspinatus would operate over the widest range of sarcomere lengths.

The supraspinatus and infraspinatus had relatively long sarcomere lengths in the anatomic position, and were under relatively high passive tensions at rest, indicating they are responsible for glenohumeral resting stability. However, the subscapularis contributed passive tension at maximum abduction and lateral rotation, indicating it plays a critical role in glenohumeral stability in the position of apprehension.

These data illustrate the exquisite coupling of muscle architecture and joint mechanics, which allows the rotator cuff to produce near maximal active tensions in the midrange and produce passive tensions in the various end-range positions. During surgery relatively small changes to rotator cuff muscle length may result in relatively large changes in shoulder function.