Modern shoulder prostheses permit an anatomic reconstruction of the joint, although the biomechanical advantages are not proven. The goal of this study was to investigate the relationship between position of the humeral head and function of the shoulder prosthesis (muscle efficiency). Shoulder elevation-motion and rotator cuff defects were simulated in vitro in a robot-assisted shoulder simulator. The EPOCA Custom Offset shoulder prosthesis (Argomedical AG, Cham, CH) was implanted in seven normal shoulders (77 +/- 20 kg, 55 +/- 14 years). Active elevation was simulated by hydraulic cylinders, and scapulothoratic motion by a specially programmed industrial robot. Muscle efficiency (elevation-angle/muscle-force of the deltoid muscle) was measured in anatomic (ANA), medialised (MED) and lateralised (LAT) positions of the humeral head, with or without rotator cuff muscle deficiency. Medialisation increased efficiency by 0.03 +/- 0.04 deg/N (p = 0.022), lateralisation decreased it by 0.04 +/- 0.06 deg/N (p = 0.009). Supraspinatus muscle deficiency increased the deltoid force required to elevate the arm, and thus decreased efficiency (ANA p = 0.091, MED p = 0.018, LAT p = 0.028). The data confirm that the position of the humeral head affects the mechanics of total shoulder arthroplasty. Medialisation increases efficiency of the deltoid muscle and may prove useful in compensating isolated supraspinatus muscle deficiency. Lateralisation, in contrast, leads to an unfavorable situation.