Co­ra­coid process: ravens, light­houses and shoot­ers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

What is it? A curved piece of bone that’s part of our scapula (shoul­der blade). This hook-shaped process pro­trudes from a thick base out of the top of the scapula. You can feel it just be­low the outer end (lat­eral end, in med­i­cal par­lance) of the col­lar bone, aka the clav­i­cle. What does it do? It’s an an­chor for lots of mus­cles and lig­a­ments in the shoul­der. For ex­am­ple, the bi­ceps mus­cle that runs down the front of our arm at­taches to it; and the pec­toral mus­cles of our chest — or ‘‘ pecs’’, as they’re called at the gym (and the beach) — are also teth­ered to this bony promon­tory. What’s it got to do with ravens? The thick hook of this piece of bone looks quite like a bird’s beak, and that’s how it got its name. Co­ra­coid comes from two Greek words: ko­rax , mean­ing raven, and ei­dos , which means form, so it lit­er­ally means ‘‘ shaped like a raven’s beak’’. Co­ra­coid, and ko­rax, are great ex­am­ples of ono­matopoeia — when a word sounds like the thing it de­scribes. Think how the ‘‘ cor’’ of co­ra­coid and the ‘‘ kor’’ of ko­rax sound like the pe­cu­liar cry of a raven or crow. . . .and light­houses? Doc­tors call the co­ra­coid process the ‘‘ sur­geon’s light­house’’. There are lots of vi­tally im­por­tant blood ves­sels and nerves in the shoul­der, and sur­geons op­er­at­ing on this part of the body have to avoid them, or risk caus­ing se­ri­ous dam­age. The co­ra­coid process is a land­mark that acts like a bea­con, help­ing sur­geons steer clear of the pre­cious nerves and ar­ter­ies. And how might shoot­ers be aware of it? Clay pi­geon shoot­ers stick their gun butts into their shoul­der and fire round af­ter round into the sky, and this can some­times frac­ture their co­ra­coid process; it’s called ‘‘ trap­shooter’s shoul­der’’.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Nathalie Gar­cia

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