Background: The incidence of scapular winging is unclear, but it may be more common than previously thought. It can be difficult to diagnose because the presenting complaint and physical examination may direct the practitioner toward more common shoulder and neck conditions. Ongoing scapular dysfunction may result in inappropriate or failed surgery. Our goals were to (1) describe the common misdiagnoses (instability, labral abnormality, impingement, and cervical spine disease), the clinical scenarios and examination findings leading to diagnostic difficulty, the definitive treatment options available, and the clinical outcomes and complications; and (2) review the important aspects of the patient history, physical examination of the scapula, and associated studies necessary to make the correct diagnosis of scapular winging.
Methods: We reviewed the literature relative to, and our own experience with, the treatment of scapular winging and identified a series of patients with this condition who were initially misdiagnosed with other shoulder or spine abnormalities. In our literature search, only nine clinical studies reported on a series of patients with scapular winging that was initially misdiagnosed or had a delay in diagnosis (n = 53 patients). We examined these cases for presenting or preexisting diagnoses and for surgical procedures that had been performed before the diagnosis of scapular winging.
Results: For patients ultimately diagnosed with scapular winging, initial presentations and diagnoses included rotator cuff disorders (20%), glenohumeral instability (8%), peripheral nerve disorders (6%), cervical spine disease (6%), acromioclavicular disorders (6%), thoracic outlet syndrome (4%), and unknown or unspecified (41%). The most common surgical procedures performed before definitive scapular winging treatment were rotator cuff (22%), instability (22%), nerve (14%), acromioclavicular (12%), cervical spine (5%), and thoracic outlet (4%) procedures.
Conclusions: Clinically, scapular winging often mimics more common shoulder abnormalities and can result in unnecessary or unsuccessful surgical procedures. Diagnosis can be readily achieved with simple physical examination and specific provocative maneuvers in conjunction with electromyography and nerve conduction studies. Prompt diagnosis and recognition can avoid substantial shoulder dysfunction.
Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, the Harvard Shoulder Service, Boston, Massachusetts
Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.