The outcome of scapulothoracic fusion for painful winging of the scapula in dystrophic and non-dystrophic conditions

M. D. Sewell, D. S. Higgs, N. Al-Hadithy, M. Falworth, I. Bayley, S. M. Lambert


Scapulothoracic fusion (STF) for painful winging of the scapula in neuromuscular disorders can provide effective pain relief and functional improvement, but there is little information comparing outcomes between patients with dystrophic and non-dystrophic conditions. We performed a retrospective review of 42 STFs in 34 patients with dystrophic and non-dystrophic conditions using a multifilament trans-scapular, subcostal cable technique supported by a dorsal one-third semi-tubular plate. There were 16 males and 18 females with a mean age of 30 years (15 to 75) and a mean follow-up of 5.0 years (2.0 to 10.6). The mean Oxford shoulder score improved from 20 (4 to 39) to 31 (4 to 48). Patients with non-dystrophic conditions had lower overall functional scores but achieved greater improvements following STF. The mean active forward elevation increased from 59° (20° to 90°) to 97° (30° to 150°), and abduction from 51° (10° to 90°) to 83° (30° to 130°) with a greater range of movement achieved in the dystrophic group. Revision fusion for nonunion was undertaken in five patients at a mean time of 17 months (7 to 31) and two required revision for fracture. There were three pneumothoraces, two rib fractures, three pleural effusions and six nonunions. The main risk factors for nonunion were smoking, age and previous shoulder girdle surgery.

STF is a salvage procedure that can provide good patient satisfaction in 82% of patients with both dystrophic and non-dystrophic pathologies, but there was a relatively high failure rate (26%) when poor outcomes were analysed. Overall function was better in patients with dystrophic conditions which correlated with better range of movement; however, patients with non-dystrophic conditions achieved greater functional improvement.


  • The authors would like to thank S. S. Cro from the MRC clinical trials unit for help with statistical analysis.

    No benefits in any form have been received or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.

  • Supplementary material. A table detailing the pre-operative demographics and risk factors for patients who developed nonunion and those who underwent revision is available with the electronic version of this article on our website

  • Received February 21, 2012.
  • Accepted May 4, 2012.
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