Flexibility of the shoulder joint measured as range of abduction in a large representative sample of men and women over 65 years of age

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In a representative survey of 1000 elderly men and women aged over 65 years living in their own homes, assessments have been made of flexibility measured as range of shoulder abduction in addition to health status, psychological well-being and reported customary activity. The results for shoulder abduction were approximately normally distributed and the mean values (±1 standard deviation) were as follows: — in men aged 65–74 years, 129 (±14)° and aged over 74 years, 121 (±19)°; in women aged 65–74 years, 124 (±19)° and aged over 74 years, 114 (±22)°. These mean values are about 30° less than those accepted for younger subjects. Nearly half the distribution falls below the accepted threshold level of 120° for adequate function. There were significant effects of sex and age (P<0.001); women had poorer flexibility and the reduction with age amounted to 10° per decade. Multiple regression analysis showed that the effect of age was accounted for in part by health, strength and customary use. The effects of use were most marked in those with some disability. This suggests that maintained or increased use could offset some of the age-related loss of the range of shoulder movement.