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Musculoskeletal Anatomy Of The Shoulder

Discover the intricate musculoskeletal anatomy of the shoulder and unlock the secrets to its remarkable versatility and functionality.

USMLE Guide: Musculoskeletal Anatomy Of The Shoulder


The musculoskeletal anatomy of the shoulder is essential knowledge for medical students preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the key structures and their functions within the shoulder region.

1. Bones of the Shoulder

The shoulder consists of several bones, including:

  • Clavicle (collarbone): Located anteriorly, it connects the sternum to the scapula.
  • Scapula (shoulder blade): Forms the posterior part of the shoulder, providing attachment sites for numerous muscles.
  • Humerus: The upper arm bone that articulates with the scapula to form the shoulder joint.

2. Shoulder Joints

The shoulder joint is a complex structure comprising multiple joints that allow for a wide range of motion. Key joints include:

  • Glenohumeral joint: The main joint connecting the head of the humerus with the glenoid cavity of the scapula. It permits flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal and external rotation.
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) joint: Located where the acromion process of the scapula articulates with the clavicle.
  • Sternoclavicular (SC) joint: Formed between the clavicle and the sternum.

3. Muscles and Tendons

Several muscles and tendons are involved in the movement and stability of the shoulder. Key structures include:

  • Rotator cuff muscles: Consisting of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscles, they play a crucial role in shoulder movement and stability.
  • Deltoid muscle: Located on the lateral aspect of the shoulder, it aids in raising and lowering the arm.
  • Biceps brachii tendon: Originating from the glenoid labrum, it passes through the bicipital groove of the humerus, providing stability and flexion of the shoulder.

4. Ligaments

Ligaments provide stability to the shoulder joint and surrounding structures. Important ligaments include:

  • Coracoclavicular ligaments: Consisting of the conoid and trapezoid ligaments, they connect the coracoid process of the scapula to the clavicle, providing stability to the AC joint.
  • Coracoacromial ligament: Extending between the coracoid process and the acromion, it forms a protective arch over the shoulder joint.
  • Glenohumeral ligaments: A group of ligaments that reinforce the joint capsule, preventing excessive movement of the humeral head.

5. Nerves and Blood Supply

The shoulder region is innervated by multiple nerves and supplied by various blood vessels. Key structures include:

  • Axillary nerve: Provides motor innervation to the deltoid muscle and sensory innervation to the shoulder region.
  • Suprascapular nerve: Innervates the supraspinatus and infraspinatus muscles.
  • Subclavian artery: Gives rise to the thyrocervical trunk, which supplies blood to the shoulder region.


Understanding the musculoskeletal anatomy of the shoulder is crucial for medical students preparing for the USMLE. This guide has provided an overview of the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood supply of the shoulder region. By mastering this information, students will be well-prepared to answer related questions on the exam.

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