Common Shoulder Tests in Orthopedic Examination

The following is a list of the many common tests used by physical therapists and other orthopedic practitioners when examining the shoulder. Some of the tests have links to descriptions of the tests as well as video demonstrations.  Before learning about the examination of the shoulder it is useful to review basic shoulder anatomy and basic shoulder biomechanics. If you know of a test that should be included in this list, please let us know.

Over the years many special tests have been developed for the shoulder. There are likely more orthopedic tests for the shoulder than any other area of the body. Perhaps this is because the shoulder joint is so mobile for such a large “joint”. It is the most mobile of all of the major joints of the human body.

Because of its great mobility and range of motion (ROM), the shoulder girdle is very prone to instability. As a result, many of these tests are related to testing the stability of the shoulder. Another common problem that many of these tests address is impingement or compressions of structures underneath the bony prominences of the shoulder. There are also tests that focus on stressing the various soft tissues of the shoulder including nerves, ligaments, tendons and muscles.

There are multiple joints that make up the shoulder complex. Different tests focus on different joints. The largest joint in the shoulder is the glenohumeral joint. However, other joints targeted by the below tests include the A-C or acromioclavicular joint and the S-C or sternoclavicular joint. The articulation of the shoulder blade or ‘scapula’ with the rib cage is also considered a joint and is targeted by some of the special tests.

Neer Test - Demonstration
Nasch92 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Orthopedic Special Tests for the Shoulder Girdle

The Bare Minimum: Donatelli Shoulder Method Assessment and Treatment

The Bare Minimum: Donatelli Shoulder Method is an evidence based book that describes the assessment and treatment techniques of Dr. Robert Donatelli and Donn Dimond. It includes mobility testing, strength tests, and special tests along with mobilization techniques and exercises for treating shoulder pathophysiology.

Special Tests for Orthopedic Examination

First published more than 20 years ago, Special Tests for Orthopedic Examination, now in its Fourth Edition, continues to follow the authors’ initial goals of providing a simple, pocket-sized manual for practical learning purposes.

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