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Understanding Shoulder Anatomy

Learn how your shoulder works.

Understanding Shoulder Anatomy

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Healthy Shoulder Anatomy image

Discover how your shoulder works.

The shoulder joint has the largest range of motion out of all the joints in the body. This flexibility allows you to hit a backhand swing in tennis or stretch to reach something on a top shelf. The shoulder also helps you position your hands for movements such as waving goodbye or using the mouse on your computer.

The shoulder consists of 3 bones:

  • shoulder blade (scapula)
  • collar bone (clavicle)
  • upper arm bone (humerus)
Shoulder Socket Anatomy image

Two main joints help your shoulder move easily.

Glenohumeral joint
Commonly called the shoulder joint, the glenohumeral joint helps you move your shoulder forward and backward. It also enables your arm to rotate in a circular manner or move outward. The shoulder joint is composed of the socket on your shoulder blade (glenoid) and the “ball” at the top of your arm bone (the humerus). Uniquely, the ball of the upper arm bone is twice the size of the shoulder blade socket. One way of picturing this joint is to think of a golf ball on a tee.

Acromioclavicular joint
The acromioclavicular joint is located between your shoulder blade (acromion) and your collar bone (clavicle). The sternoclavicular joint is another joint in this region that isn’t part of the shoulder joint, but is a bridge between the upper extremity and the back of the rib cage (thorax).

Muscles Shoulder Anatomy image

Muscles, tendons and ligaments also support the shoulder joint.

This complex arrangement of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments can be injured by an accident or overuse. Disease also can affect the shoulder. When that happens, the pain and lack of mobility can be severe enough to affect your ability to work and to enjoy normal activities of daily life.


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As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. The performance of shoulder replacements depends on age, weight, activity level and other factors. There are potential risks and recovery takes time. If you have conditions that limit rehabilitation you should not have this surgery. Only an orthopaedic surgeon can tell you if shoulder replacement is right for you.

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