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Comparative anatomy of the rotator cuff

Authors: D. H. Sonnabend and A. A. Young

References: J Bone Joint Surg Br 2009 91-B: 1632-1637.

While the evolution of the bony skeleton of the shoulder girdle is well described, there is little information regarding the soft tissues, in particular of the rotator cuff. We dissected the shoulders of 23 different species and compared the anatomical features of the tendons of the rotator cuff. The alignment and orientation of the collagen fibres of some of the tendons were also examined histologically. The behaviour of the relevant species was studied, with particular reference to the extent and frequency of forward-reaching and overhead activity of the forelimb.

In quadrupedal species, the tendons of supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor were seen to insert into the greater tuberosity of the humerus separately. They therefore did not form a true rotator cuff with blending of the tendons. This was only found in advanced primates and in one unusual species, the tree kangaroo.

These findings support the suggestion that the appearance of the rotator cuff in the evolutionary process parallels anatomical adaptation to regular overhead activity and the increased use of the arm away from the sagittal plane.

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