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Shoulder Anatomy

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Understanding Shoulder Anatomy

If you are experiencing shoulder pain and hearing your doctor, osteopath or other therapist mentioning a whole lot of medical terms about your shoulder then it can become really confusing.

How do you know what they are actually saying, and should you be worried about it?

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The Three Bones in the Shoulder

The shoulder consists of a number of different bones, muscles and tendons but for starters let’s consider the three main bones that make up your shoulder.

The three main bones in the shoulder are the scapula, clavicle (also known as the collar bone) and the humerus (the upper arm bone). Between these bones there are also joints.

Acromioclavicular Joint

The acromioclavicular joint is a joint between the acromion (a part of the scapula) and the clavicle. Between this joint there are a number of ligaments such as the coracoclavicular, coracoacromial ligament and conoid ligament.

Shoulder Muscles

Another important part of the shoulder anatomy is the shoulder muscles.

These muscles connect to the three bones in the shoulder and are responsible for different functions.

Some of these muscles include the serratus anterior, subclavius, pectoralis minor, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, trapezius and deltoid.

Shoulder Bursa

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that lies between bones and tendons or muscles around joints such as the shoulder.

These allow smooth movement but can become inflamed, in which case you will be told you have bursitis.

Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is another important part of your shoulder and one you will often hear connected with shoulder pain.

It consists of a number of tendons as well as some related muscles. The rotator cuff helps to stabilize the shoulder but can also be easily damaged such as a tear or shoulder impingement.


What is shoulder impingement? Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff are pinched in the subacromial space (the space below the acromion part of the scapula).

Joint Capsule

Another term you may hear related to shoulder anatomy is the joint capsule.

A joint capsule is any membrane or sac in our bodies that surrounds a joint, like the shoulder.

The shoulder joint capsule goes around the whole of the shoulder but very loosely.

The shoulder is a very complex part of the body with a great range of movement produced by many different bones, muscles and tendons all acting together.

Unfortunately this flexibility also makes it more unstable and therefore susceptible to damage. If you do damage your shoulder you may find your doctor bringing up these terms of your shoulder anatomy and find it useful to understand what they mean.

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