Suprascapular nerve

Suprascapular nerve injuries have become increasingly recognized as a cause of shoulder pain and dysfunction1. Recent advances in diagnostic and surgical techniques have simplified the management of injuries of this nerve. The purpose of this article is to provide a simplistic overview of this condition for medical practitioners and patients.

Kopell and Thomson are often credited with the first description of suprascapular nerve injuries; however, the earliest mention of this condition is found in the works of André Thomas.

What, and where, is the suprascapular nerve?

The suprascapular nerve is one of the several nerves that originate in the brachial plexus (nerves arising from the neck). The nerve passes through a small notch/tunnel in the scapula (the bone that forms the shoulder blade), and then through a second tunnel (spinoglenoid notch). Thereafter, it makes its way to the back of the shoulder. (Figure 1)Here it provides sensation to some parts of the shoulder (ligaments, bursa, AC joint), and sometimes to skin of upper arm. The main supply of the nerve is to two important muscles of the rotator cuff of the shoulder, viz. Supraspinatus, and Infraspinatus. (details in section on Rotator Cuff)

Figure 1: Left: The bone that forms the shoulder blade (scapula) is shown. Arrows show the tunnels where the nerve is usually trapped. Right: Different types of tunnels/ notches are shown.