BACKGROUND: A depressed scapular alignment could lead to prolonged and repetitive stress or compression of the brachial plexus, resulting in sensitization of neural tissue. However, no study has investigated the influence of alignment of the scapulae on sensitization of upper limb neural tissue in otherwise asymptomatic people. In this case-control study, we investigate the influence of a depressed scapular alignment on mechanosensitivity of the upper limb peripheral nervous system as well as pressure pain thresholds (PPT).
METHODS: Asymptomatic individuals with neutral vertical scapular alignment (n = 25) or depressed scapular alignment (n = 25) participated. We measured the upper limb neurodynamic test (ULNT1), including assessment of symptom response and elbow range of motion (ROM), and PPT measured over upper limb peripheral nerve trunks, the upper trapezius muscle and overlying cervical zygapophyseal joints.
RESULTS: Subjects with a depressed scapular reported significantly greater pain intensity (t = 5.7, p < 0.0001) and reduced elbow extension ROM (t = -2.7, p < 0.01) during the ULNT1 compared to those with a normal scapular orientation. Regardless of the location tested, the group presenting with a depressed scapular had significantly lower PPT compared to those with a normal scapular orientation (PPT averaged across all sites: normal orientation: 3.3 ± 0.6 kg/cm(2), depressed scapular: 2.1 ± 0.5 kg/cm(2), p < 0.00001).
CONCLUSIONS: Despite being asymptomatic, people with a depressed scapular have greater neck and upper limb neural tissue mechanosensitivity when compared to people with a normal scapular orientation. This study offers insight into the potential development of neck-arm pain due to a depressed scapular position.
- Cervical spine