Radiographic Examination of Humeral Head Migration after Fatiguing the Rotator Cuff
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Undesirable work factors, such as awkward upper body postures and repetitive arm motion, in the workplace can lead to upper extremity pain. Research suggests that these work-related factors, and subsequent rotator cuff fatigue, may cause the subacromial space (the space between the inferior acromion surface and superior humerus) of the shoulder to decrease. Reducing this space can create impingement of the interposed tissues, which causes shoulder pain. The aim of this study was to examine superior humeral head excursion and changes in the width of the subacromial space (acromio-humeral interval) after fatiguing the rotator cuff musculature. Four anterior-posterior radiographs of the glenohumeral joint at arm abduction angles of 0˚, 45˚, 90˚ and 135˚ were taken before and after a fatiguing task. The fatiguing task was a simulated job task requiring shoulder flexion/abduction and internal/external rotation, with the intention of exhausting the entire rotator cuff. The position of the humeral head with respect to the glenoid cavity was significantly affected both by arm angle and fatigue state; the mean humeral superior excursion following fatigue was 0.63±1.76mm. In the pre-fatigued state, increasing arm angle was related to superior translation until 90˚, after which the humeral head moved inferiorly to a more central position. In the post-fatigued state, the inability of the rotator cuff to centralize the humeral head led to increasing translations with higher elevations. Although the magnitude of translation in this study was smaller than seen in patients with rotator cuff tears, continuous overhead work demonstrably created rotator cuff fatigue, which apparently inhibited the ability of the shoulder musculature to resist upward translation of the humerus. Therefore, jobs that require overhead and repetitive work arguably put the worker at greater risk for superior translation of the humerus and subsequent related tissue damage.