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What is the Scapula?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The scapula is a flat, triangular bone which forms the back of the shoulder. People usually have two, one at either shoulder. These create the distinctive flat area on the upper back which people associate with the shoulder, and the scapula is sometimes known as the shoulder blade, in reference to its flat appearance and location. In species other than humans, the position is usually slightly different to allow for articulation of the front legs.

This bone connects with the clavicle or collarbone and humerus, also known as the arm bone. It also articulates with a number of different muscles involved in the movements of the arm and shoulder. Parts of the biceps, triceps, trapezius, and deltoid muscles, among many others, come into contact with the scapula.

Injuries to this bone are quite rare. This bone is very well protected, and when it is injured, it is usually as a result of blunt force trauma to the bone, a hard fall, or a severe chest injury. Cases in which the shoulder blade may be chipped or fractured include vehicle accidents, especially on motorcycles, and beatings in which the upper back is targeted. Less than one percent of broken bones are scapula fractures.

If the bone is fractured, it usually causes severe pain in the shoulder, and difficulty moving the associated arm. The fracture will show up on an x-ray. An orthopedic surgeon can examine the x-ray to determine the extent and precise location of the break. In some cases, it may be possible to treat a fracture with a sling to immobilize the arm while the fracture heals. In other instances, surgery may be required to pin the bone so that it can knit properly, and the patient may need to spend some time in the hospital until a surgeon is satisfied that the patient is out of danger.

Another problem is a condition known as winged scapula. In this case, the bone does not lie flat, instead protruding off the shoulder, causing it to look like someone has a small budding wing. Sometimes this problem can be treated with physical therapy to strengthen the muscles which anchor the bone so it will remain in place. In other cases, it may be necessary for the patient to undergo surgery to fix the improperly positioned bone, in which case the patient may be wearing a sling for several weeks while the surgical site heals.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon315577 — On Jan 24, 2013

What is the size of an adult scapula?

By Oceana — On Jun 24, 2011

@lighth0se33 - About the only thing you can do to prevent winged scapula is practice good posture. Since the condition involves weakness of the serratus anterior muscle, you want to keep it strong.

Winged scapula also can be brought on by damage or bruising to the shoulder’s long thoracic nerve. This nerve damage can paralyze the serratus anterior muscle and let the scapula free to poke out like a wing. Damage to this nerve can be brought on by either a bruise or blunt trauma to the shoulder, a viral illness, or neck traction.

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 23, 2011

Winged scapula sounds like a terrible condition. Does anyone know what causes it? My shoulders protrude a little bit already, and I want to make sure I don’t do anything to encourage them into winged scapula.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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