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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Shoulder posture and median nerve sliding

Andrea Julius, Rebecca Lees, Andrew Dilley* and Bruce Lynn

Author Affiliations

Department of Physiology, University College London, Gower Street, London, UK

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2004, 5:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-5-23

Published: 28 July 2004

Abstract

Background

Patients with upper limb pain often have a slumped sitting position and poor shoulder posture. Pain could be due to poor posture causing mechanical changes (stretch; local pressure) that in turn affect the function of major limb nerves (e.g. median nerve). This study examines (1) whether the individual components of slumped sitting (forward head position, trunk flexion and shoulder protraction) cause median nerve stretch and (2) whether shoulder protraction restricts normal nerve movements.

Methods

Longitudinal nerve movement was measured using frame-by-frame cross-correlation analysis from high frequency ultrasound images during individual components of slumped sitting. The effects of protraction on nerve movement through the shoulder region were investigated by examining nerve movement in the arm in response to contralateral neck side flexion.

Results

Neither moving the head forward or trunk flexion caused significant movement of the median nerve. In contrast, 4.3 mm of movement, adding 0.7% strain, occurred in the forearm during shoulder protraction. A delay in movement at the start of protraction and straightening of the nerve trunk provided evidence of unloading with the shoulder flexed and elbow extended and the scapulothoracic joint in neutral. There was a 60% reduction in nerve movement in the arm during contralateral neck side flexion when the shoulder was protracted compared to scapulothoracic neutral.

Conclusion

Slumped sitting is unlikely to increase nerve strain sufficient to cause changes to nerve function. However, shoulder protraction may place the median nerve at risk of injury, since nerve movement is reduced through the shoulder region when the shoulder is protracted and other joints are moved. Both altered nerve dynamics in response to moving other joints and local changes to blood supply may adversely affect nerve function and increase the risk of developing upper quadrant pain.