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Scapular Stabilization Limits Glenohumeral Stretching in Children With Brachial Plexus Injuries

      Purpose

      To quantify the effects of scapular stabilization on scapulothoracic and glenohumeral (GH) stretching.

      Methods

      Motion capture data during external rotation and abduction with and without scapular stabilization were collected and analyzed for 26 children with brachial plexus birth palsy. These positions were performed by an experienced occupational therapist and by the child’s caretaker. Scapulothoracic and GH joint angular displacements were compared between stretches with no stabilization, stabilization performed by the therapist, and stabilization performed by the caretaker. The relationship between the age and ability of the therapist and caretaker to perform the stretches with scapular stabilization was also assessed.

      Results

      During external rotation there were no significant differences in either the scapulothoracic or GH joint during stabilization by either the therapist or the caretaker. During abduction, both scapulothoracic and GH joint angular displacements were statistically different. Scapulothoracic upward rotation angular displacement significantly decreased with scapular stabilization by the therapist and caretaker. Glenohumeral elevation angular displacement significantly decreased with scapular stabilization performed by the therapist and caretaker. There were only weak correlations between age and the differences in scapulothoracic and GH joint angular displacement performed by both the therapist and the caretaker.

      Conclusions

      The findings of this study indicate that scapular stabilization may be detrimental to passive stretching of the GH joint in children, as demonstrated by a reduced stretch. Based on the findings of this study, we have changed our practice to recommend passive stretches without scapular stabilization for children aged 5 years and older with brachial plexus birth palsy. In infants and children aged less than 5 years, we now recommend stretching with and without scapular stabilization until the effect of scapular stabilization is objectively assessed in these age groups.

      Level of evidence/type of study

      Therapeutic IV.

      Key words

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