Traditional total shoulder arthroplasty is performed through the deltopectoral approach and includes subscapularis release and repair. Subscapularis nonhealing or dysfunction may leave patients with persistent pain, impairment, and instability. Alternative approaches that spare the subscapularis include rotator interval and posterior shoulder approaches; however, to our knowledge, a cadaveric study describing pertinent surgical anatomy for a posterior shoulder approach regarding shoulder arthroplasty has not been performed.
(1) What are the distances from important neurologic structures of the shoulder for arthroplasty through a posterior approach? (2) What surgical landmarks can help identify the internervous interval between the infraspinatus and teres minor?
Twelve hemitorso cadaver specimens with intact rotator cuffs were dissected to study posterior shoulder anatomy regarding posterior shoulder arthroplasty. The median (range) age of the specimens was 79 years (55 to 92). Six of the 12 specimens were right-hand dominant, and 10 specimens were male. Cadaver height was a median 171 cm (155 to 191) and weight was a median of 68 kg (59 to 125). A posterior deltoid split and internervous approach between the infraspinatus and teres minor were used. A posterior T capsulotomy was performed. The distances to important neurologic structures were measured with an electronic caliper and provided in median (range) distances in millimeters. Although not as meaningful as distance ratios accounting for a specimen’s body size, neurologic distances in millimeters are surgically practical and provide intraoperative usefulness. Surgical landmarks that can help identify the infraspinatus and teres minor plane were noted. Practical visual and tactile cues between the infraspinatus and teres minor were identified. Posterior rotator cuff tendon morphologies and widths were recorded.
The closest important neurologic structure was the axillary nerve, measuring a median (range) 17 mm (9 to 19) from the inferior glenoid rim while the infraspinatus branch of the suprascapular nerve measured 21 mm (15 to 36) from the posterior glenoid rim. The axillary nerve measured 84 mm (70 to 97) from the posterior tip of the acromion in the deltoid split. Three surgical landmarks were helpful for identifying the plane between the infraspinatus and teres minor in all 12 specimens: (1) identifying the triangular teres minor tendon insertion, (2) medial palpation identifying the low point between the prominent muscle bellies of the infraspinatus and teres minor, and (3) identifying the distinct and prominent teres minor tubercle, which is well localized and palpable.
A major benefit of the posterior approach for shoulder arthroplasty is subscapularis preservation. Multiple practical surgical cues are consistently present and can help identify the infraspinatus and teres minor interval. We did not find the presence of fat stripes to be helpful. The suprascapular nerve is in proximity to posterior surgical dissection and differs from the deltopectoral approach. This is an important distinction from an anterior approach and requires care with dissection. Future studies are necessary to assess iatrogenic risk to the posterior rotator cuff and external rotation strength. This may entail intraoperative nerve conduction studies of the posterior rotator cuff and clinical studies assessing external rotation strength.
Studying posterior shoulder anatomy is an initial first step to assessing the feasibility of the posterior approach for anatomic shoulder arthroplasty. Additional studies assessing the degree of glenohumeral exposure and possible iatrogenic posterior rotator cuff injury are necessary. Because of the proximity of neurologic structures, it is recommended that surgeons not perform this technique until sufficient evidence indicates that it is equivalent or superior to standard anterior approach total shoulder arthroplasty. After such evidence is available, proper training will be necessary to ensure safe use of the posterior shoulder approach.