Quantifying ‘normal’ shoulder muscle activity during abduction Academic Article uri icon


  • The purpose of this experiment was to obtain electromyographic (EMG) activity from a sample of healthy shoulders to allow a reference database to be developed and used for comparison with pathological shoulders. Temporal and intensity shoulder muscle activation characteristics during a coronal plane abduction/adduction movement were evaluated in the dominant healthy shoulder of 24 subjects. Surface and intramuscular fine wire electrodes recorded EMG activity from 15 shoulder muscles (deltoid x 3, trapezius x 3, subscapularis x 2, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, serratus anterior and rhomboids) at 2000 Hz for 10s whilst each subject performed 10 dynamic coronal plane abduction/adduction movements from 0 degrees to 166 degrees to 0 degrees with a light dumbbell. Results revealed that supraspinatus (-.102 s before movement onset) initiated the movement with middle trapezius (-.019 s) and middle deltoid (-.014 s) also activated before the movement onset. Similar patterns were also found in the time of peak amplitude and %MVC with a pattern emerging where the prime movers (supraspinatus and middle deltoid) were among the first to reach peak amplitude or display the highest %MVC values. In conclusion, the most reproducible patterns of activation arose from the more prime mover muscle sites in all EMG variables analysed and although variability was present, there emerged 'invariant characteristics' that were considered 'normal' for this group of non pathological shoulders. The authors believe that the methodology and certain parts of the analysis in this study can be duplicated and used by future researchers who require a reference database of muscle activity for use as a control group in comparisons to their respective pathological shoulder group.


  • Wickham, James
  • Pizzari, Tania
  • Stansfeld, Katie
  • Burnside, Amanda
  • Watson, Lyn

publication date

  • April 2010