The shoulder capsular pattern, also known as the scapulohumeral rhythm, refers to the coordinated movement of the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus) during arm movements. Understanding this pattern is crucial for optimal shoulder function, as any deviations can lead to pain, stiffness, and movement limitations.

The normal shoulder capsular pattern involves a combination of upward rotation and posterior tilt of the scapula as the arm is abducted (raised sideways). This coordinated movement ensures that the humeral head remains centered within the glenoid socket, allowing for smooth and pain-free motion.

Deviations from the normal shoulder capsular pattern can occur due to various factors, including muscle imbalances, injuries, and postural abnormalities. These deviations can manifest in different ways, such as anterior or posterior tilt of the scapula, excessive protraction (forward movement) or retraction (backward movement), and altered coordination between the scapula and humerus. As a result, individuals may experience pain, reduced range of motion, and impaired movement control.

Assessment of the Shoulder Capsular Pattern


Visual observation of the shoulder during arm movements provides valuable information about the shoulder capsular pattern. By observing the position and movement of the scapula and humerus, clinicians can identify any deviations from the normal pattern.

During abduction, the scapula should rotate upward approximately 30 degrees and tilt posteriorly by about 10 degrees. The humerus should remain centered within the glenoid socket throughout the movement.


Palpation of the shoulder blade can help assess its position and mobility. By palpating the medial border of the scapula, clinicians can determine if it is properly positioned and if it moves smoothly during arm movements.

In cases of altered shoulder capsular pattern, palpation may reveal excessive protraction or retraction of the scapula, tightness or weakness in surrounding muscles, and altered joint mechanics.

Manual Muscle Testing

Manual muscle testing (MMT) assesses the strength of the muscles involved in shoulder movements. Specific muscles that contribute to the shoulder capsular pattern include the serratus anterior, trapezius, and rotator cuff muscles.

MMT involves resisting the client’s effort to perform specific movements that isolate each muscle group. This evaluation helps identify any muscle imbalances that may contribute to deviations in the shoulder capsular pattern.

Factors Influencing the Shoulder Capsular Pattern

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances around the shoulder joint can significantly alter the shoulder capsular pattern. Weakness of the scapular stabilizers, such as the serratus anterior and lower trapezius, can lead to excessive protraction of the scapula, while tightness in the pectoralis minor and upper trapezius can result in anterior tilt.

Imbalances in the rotator cuff muscles can also affect the shoulder capsular pattern. Weakness of the external rotators, such as the infraspinatus and teres minor, can cause internal rotation of the humerus and anterior tilt of the scapula.


Traumatic injuries to the shoulder can disrupt the normal shoulder capsular pattern. Fractures of the clavicle, scapula, or humerus can alter the alignment of these bones and affect the coordinated movement of the shoulder joint.

Ligament tears and muscle strains can also lead to deviations in the shoulder capsular pattern. Damage to the anterior glenohumeral ligament, for example, can result in excessive anterior translation of the humerus and altered scapular kinematics.

Postural Abnormalities

Poor posture can contribute to altered shoulder capsular pattern. Prolonged sitting with rounded shoulders and forward head posture can lead to weakness of the scapular stabilizers and tightness in the chest muscles.

This postural imbalance can result in excessive protraction and anterior tilt of the scapula, which can disrupt the normal shoulder capsular pattern and increase the risk of shoulder pain and dysfunction.

Management of Deviations in the Shoulder Capsular Pattern

Management of deviations in the shoulder capsular pattern typically involves a combination of therapeutic interventions tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

Therapeutic exercises, such as scapular stabilization exercises, rotator cuff strengthening, and postural correction exercises, can help improve muscle balance, enhance scapular stability, and restore the normal shoulder capsular pattern.

Manual therapy, including soft tissue mobilization and joint manipulation, can address muscle tightness, improve joint mobility, and facilitate optimal movement patterns.


The shoulder capsular pattern is a complex and dynamic movement that is essential for optimal shoulder function. Understanding the normal pattern and recognizing deviations from it is crucial for effective assessment and management of shoulder disorders.

By addressing muscle imbalances, correcting postural abnormalities, and implementing appropriate therapeutic interventions, clinicians can help individuals restore their normal shoulder capsular pattern and improve their overall shoulder health and function.



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