Shoulder Abduction Test

If you have a patient dealing with shoulder pains, perform the Shoulder Abduction Test to check if the problem possibly involves their cervical nerves. Learn more about it from this guide.

Matt Olivares
Matt Olivares
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What is the Shoulder Abduction Test?

Suppose you have a patient that consults with you to discuss pain in their upper body, and they specifically talk about shoulder pains. In that case, the impingement or irritation of the nerves in the cervical spine region may cause their pain.

If the nerves in this region are impinged or irritated, this will cause pain that has the chance to spread to the shoulders, arms, and hands of a patient. It may even result in the weakness and/or numbness of muscles in the upper extremities and the sensation of being pricked by needles in the hands and fingers. While nerve impingement can heal over time, which it usually does in just a few days (or up to a month, if you’re unlucky), that doesn’t mean it should be left unchecked because these might be a factor for certain cervical spine area-related problems.

To assess the patient to check if the impingement or irritation of these nerves is the problem, the Shoulder Abduction Test was developed. This test, also known as Bakody’s Sign, was specifically created to help healthcare professionals gauge the possibility of cervical radiculopathy, brachial plexus impingement, and other cervical spine area-related conditions. It does so by, well, abducting the shoulder and checking if the pain that the patient is feeling subsides.

Check out this video to see how the Shoulder Abduction Test is performed:

Printable Shoulder Abduction Test

Download this Shoulder Abduction Test to assess your patient’s shoulder pain.

How to conduct the Shoulder Abduction Test?

Before conducting this test, you should know that this is a non-invasive test, so it doesn’t require any special equipment for you to do it. The only thing that you might need is optional, which is a comfortable examination bed. The patient won’t be lying down on it, though. They just need to sit on it. You can even choose to have the patient stand up, too. 

It’s also quite an easy test since it only involves one step. It can be accomplished in a minute or two, plus, you can get the results that you need immediately.

Once you’re all set, just do the following:

  • Have your patient sit down on an examination bed or chair. Or, you can have them stand up.
  • Tell your patient to passively or actively abduct their arm, specifically the arm where they feel shoulder pain or just pain in general. This means they have to raise their arm above their head.
  • Once their arm is above the head, have them flex their elbow.
  • After flexing the elbow, have them plant their hand on the top of their head while keeping the arm over the head and flexing the elbow.
  • Tell them to maintain this position for thirty seconds.

There! That’s how you do the Shoulder Abduction Test. Easy, right?

How to interpret the findings of the Shoulder Abduction Test

Now that you know what the Shoulder Abduction Test is about, how to perform it, and what it aims to assess, it’s time to know how to interpret the findings!

For the Shoulder Abduction Test, you’re specifically looking out for one thing. If the patient feels shoulder pain before the test, then the Shoulder Abduction Test will try to relieve that pain or make it subside. If there is a reduction of pain or if it is relieved while maintaining the position for thirty seconds, then the test is considered positive because the position alleviates the nerves and the lower brachial plexus trunks. If this is the designation that you will give them, the next step is to endorse them for further examination to properly confirm the specific problem based on the findings.

If the patient doesn’t experience any pain throughout this exam, then they are negative.

If the patient still feels pain when abducting their shoulders and maintaining the required position for thirty seconds, they are still negative for this test. Though, if they are in pain while performing this test, that’s a sign that they have a problem that other tests can gauge, not this one. So, it’s best to endorse them for a comprehensive examination.

Shoulder Abduction Test Example

The Shoulder Abduction Test is essentially a physical examination technique, so it normally doesn’t come with a sheet where you can jot down your findings. We at Carepatron took the liberty to create a Shoulder Abduction Test sheet template! It contains instructions, pointers on how to interpret the results, and an additional comments box to write down findings and comments regarding the patient’s problem.

The comments box is also your opportunity to mention any decisions you’ve made or will make regarding your patient’s check-up and treatment, and you can explain your reasonings behind them. It’s a good way to share results with the rest of your team to help them determine how to go about their tests and what to look out for when you endorse the patient for further examination. Here is what it looks like.

If you like what you see, feel free to download our template! It’s free! You can print it and fill it out with a pen, or you can go paperless and just engage with the tickboxes and editable field of the PDF file!

Download this Shoulder Abduction Test Example (Sample) here:

Shoulder Abduction Test Example

When is it best to conduct the Shoulder Abduction Test?

The best time to conduct the Shoulder Abduction Test is when a patient visits you for a consultation and complains about pain in their shoulder(s), their neck, or even their arms, all the more if the patient feels tingles in their arms, hands, and fingers. You should also check their medical history because if their record shows that they have had issues with their neck and cervical spine before or they have recently been admitted to a hospital for an injury or trauma in their shoulders, then this test is definitely one of the techniques that you should use to properly gauge the patient’s shoulder problem.

Earlier in this guide, we mentioned that if the patient gets a positive designation after the Shoulder Abduction Test, or if they still feel pain even after a negative designation, the next step that you should take is to endorse the patient for a comprehensive examination. This is because the Shoulder Abduction Test should not be the sole assessment you’ll use to gauge a patient.

This doesn’t mean it’s unreliable, though. It looks for a specific sign to say that the possible problem has something to do with irritated or impinged cervical spine nerves. Other tests will be able to confirm it, especially imaging tests. The Shoulder Abduction Test results should help other members of a team to determine what particular tests they should conduct, whether the results are positive or negative.

What are the benefits of the Shoulder Abduction Test?

It is a safe and inexpensive test to conduct.

Unlike other physical examination techniques that require you to flex a patient’s limbs with your hands, the Shoulder Abduction Test has you telling the patient to abduct their shoulders on their own. It doesn’t require any special equipment, it’s non-invasive, and it’s safe! Not only that, the instructions are so simple that you can accomplish this between one to two minutes, plus, get instant results!

It can help guide treatment decisions.

One of the best things about the Shoulder Abduction Test is that it can help healthcare professionals decide what to do next. If the Shoulder Abduction Test is positive, the next set of tests will likely be tests that will confirm the presence of certain problems, like cervical radiculopathy and brachial plexus impingement. If the test is negative, but the patient still feels pain, then the problem is likely to be something else and requires other physical examination techniques to determine what it could be and where they are in the cervical spine area. The treatment will also depend on the official diagnosis and the results of all tests.

It can be used to monitor patients.

Now, let’s stipulate that your team made an official diagnosis and implemented a treatment plan. Naturally, you’d like to know if the patient is getting better and if the treatment plan your team made is effective.

During a routine check-up, you can repeat the Shoulder Abduction Test to gauge the patient’s shoulders. If there is less pain than before, then good! That means the patient is slowly improving and your treatment plan is working! If the pain is still the same or somehow got worse, then perhaps your treatment plan needs a bit of tweaking or it should be overhauled. If so, your goal is to see if the changes are effective.

Why use Carepatron for orthopedic and physical therapy-related work?

The Carepatron platform has many cool features that you will enjoy, especially if you are a physical therapist, orthopedist, or an adjacent healthcare professional.

One of our features that you will surely find beneficial to you and your work is our repository of resources. This repository is massive and houses a wide variety of worksheets, assessments (including this Shoulder Abduction Test), survey templates, form templates, progress note templates, and a whole lot more! These also span numerous healthcare fields, including orthopedics and physical therapy. You’re spoiled for choice if you browse the repository.

Suppose you recall our point about including the Shoulder Abduction Test in a comprehensive examination. In that case, if you take the time to dig into our collection of our resources, you will eventually find other physical examination techniques specifically for assessing a patient's upper extremities. Feel free to download as many templates as you want and need! If these resources help you gauge your patient better, we’re happy!

Besides our resource collection, we also have a nifty storage system that you can take advantage of! This system will allow you to store your clinical documentation with us in a HIPAA-compliant manner, so if you downloaded our Shoulder Abduction Test template, you can store filled-out copies with us. You can set up who can access them besides you. We recommend that you give access to your entire team so you can conveniently share your results with them, and they can do the same! Storing files with us essentially creates backups for them, so if you ever lose physical copies of your files, you can download them from the storage and reprint!

We at Carepatron are all about helping healthcare professionals with their work, so take advantage of our platform so we can help streamline your workflows and help you preserve your work!

Physical therapy software benefit
Is the Shoulder Abduction Test painful?
Is the Shoulder Abduction Test painful?

Commonly asked questions

Is the Shoulder Abduction Test painful?

No. It actually should help with relieving the pain since it specifically tries to see if abducting the shoulder relieves the pain, because if it does, then the patient is positive for this test. Whatever pain the patient feels will be caused by a pre-existing condition.

What should be done if the patient feels pain while doing the Shoulder Abduction Test?

If the patient feels pain throughout the entire test, they should tell the professional that they are in pain so they can properly tell you how to perform it safely while minimizing the pain. If they feel pain even when they abduct the shoulder, they will be given a negative designation, but they will still have to undergo other tests to see why the pain didn’t subside while abducting their shoulders.

How long does it normally take to accomplish this test?

It should take only one to two minutes. This test is popular because it’s easy to do, quick to accomplish, and you can get instant results.

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