Shoulder Exam

Learn how physical therapists conduct a shoulder exam using a sample assessment tool. Find out how they diagnose and treat shoulder injuries and pathologies.

By Audrey Liz Perez on Jun 03, 2024.

Fact Checked by RJ Gumban.

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What is a Shoulder Exam?

A shoulder exam refers to a medical examination performed by a healthcare professional to assess the health and function of the shoulder joint. The shoulder is a complex joint that allows for a wide range of motion, but this complexity also makes it susceptible to various injuries and conditions. A shoulder exam may be conducted for various reasons, such as to diagnose the cause of pain, stiffness, or limited range of motion in the shoulder.

During a shoulder exam, the healthcare provider typically evaluates:

  1. Medical history: The patient's history is discussed to understand the nature and duration of symptoms, any previous injuries or medical conditions, and relevant lifestyle factors.
  2. Physical examination: The healthcare provider examines the shoulder region by looking for signs of swelling, bruising, deformity, and changes in skin color. They also assess the shoulder joint's range of motion, muscle strength, and stability.
  3. Palpation: It involves feeling the shoulder and surrounding areas to identify areas of tenderness, swelling, or muscle spasms.
  4. Neurological examination: The healthcare provider may assess nerve function and reflexes to rule out neurological issues affecting the shoulder.
  5. Special tests: Evaluate various shoulder structures, such as the rotator cuff, labrum, and ligaments. These tests may include the Neer test, Hawkins-Kennedy test, drop arm test, and others.
  6. Imaging: In some cases, imaging studies like X-rays, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or CT scans may be ordered to get a more detailed view of the internal structures of the shoulder.

Based on the findings of this exam, the healthcare provider can make a diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment options may include rest, physical therapy, medications, injections, or, in some cases, surgical intervention. The specific approach depends on the underlying cause of the shoulder issue.

Printable Shoulder Exam

Download this Shoulder Exam and effectively determine the functionality of your client’s shoulders.

How to use this Shoulder Exam

The Shoulder Exam is a crucial diagnostic and therapeutic tool employed by physical therapists to address shoulder dysfunction, anterior shoulder pain, dislocations, impingements, rotator cuff tendonitis, and other related pathologies.

This comprehensive examination involves a series of tests and evaluations to scrutinize the patient's shoulder joint mobility, muscle strength, and functional capabilities. The following steps outline a structured approach to applying a sample assessment tool, highlighting key observations, assessments, and tests during the examination.

Step 1. Collect patient information

Initiate the process by compiling the patient's essential personal and medical details, including their name, age, gender, chief complaint, date of injury or symptom onset, and occupation or sports involvement.

Step 2. Conduct observations

Thoroughly inspect the shoulder area for indications of swelling, deformities, redness, or muscle atrophy. Compare the injured shoulder with its counterpart to discern any alignment, posture, or overall appearance disparities.

Step 3. Evaluate range of motion (ROM)

Systematically appraise both active and passive Range of Motion (ROM) of the shoulder joint, encompassing flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. Take note of any pain, crepitus, or irregular end-feel during joint movement.

Step 4. Assess strength

Evaluate muscle strength in the shoulder joint through manual muscle testing, isometric testing, or handheld dynamometry. Identify weaknesses, muscle imbalances, or compensatory movements that may manifest during strength testing.

Step 5. Perform special tests

Execute specialized tests such as Neer's Test, Hawkins-Kennedy Test, Speed's Test, Yergason's Test, Empty Can Test, Drop Arm Test, Apprehension Test, and Relocation Test to pinpoint specific shoulder pathologies or impingements.

Step 6. Palpate the shoulder area

Utilize palpation to examine the shoulder joint, clavicle, scapula, acromioclavicular joint, coracoid process, bicipital groove, and surrounding soft tissues for signs of tenderness, swelling, or deformities.

Step 7. Evaluate functional deficits

Identify functional deficits by assessing limitations or challenges in daily activities such as overhead reaching, dressing, and lifting. Additionally, scrutinize for deficits in sports-specific movements or occupational tasks.

Step 8. Order additional tests if needed

If necessary, prescribe additional imaging studies such as X-rays, MRI, or ultrasound to confirm or rule out specific diagnoses.

Step 9. Develop a tailored treatment plan

Based on the findings from the shoulder exam, construct a personalized treatment plan encompassing targeted exercises, manual therapy techniques, activity modifications, and patient education to address the diagnosed shoulder pathology and associated functional deficits. Regularly reassess the patient's progress and adjust the treatment plan as warranted.

Shoulder Exam example (sample)

To master the shoulder exam tool, learn from a practical example. Meet John, a 47-year-old construction worker with a persistent right painful shoulder for two months. The physical therapist identified a limited range of motion, mild weakness, and positive special tests for potential rotator cuff tendinitis. Palpation revealed mild tenderness in the bicipital groove.

The functional assessment showed overhead reaching and lifting difficulties, impacting John's job.

Diagnosed with rotator cuff tendinitis, John's treatment includes exercises, manual therapy, and activity modifications. Further evaluation via X-ray and MRI was recommended. John received education on posture, body mechanics, and ergonomics for injury prevention. With this plan, John aims for improved motion, reduced pain, and a return to work without constraints.

Download this Shoulder Exam example (sample) here:

Shoulder Exam Example (Sample)

When would you typically use this Shoulder Exam?

The exam emerges as a pivotal tool in the repertoire of physical therapists, especially when addressing shoulder pain, shoulder instability, and dysfunction across diverse clinical settings like sports medicine, orthopedics, and rehabilitation. Consider these scenarios illustrating the strategic applications of the shoulder exam:

Sports Medicine

Athletes often grapple with shoulder injuries like shoulder dislocation, ranging from rotator cuff tears to dislocations and labral tears. A physical therapist employs the shoulder exam to precisely diagnose these injuries and tailors a rehabilitation program to facilitate a safe return to sport. Additionally, the exam is a proactive screening tool, enabling therapists to identify potential shoulder issues in athletes, preventing further damage.


Individuals with orthopedic conditions such as frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis, or impingement syndrome find value in the shoulder exam. It allows physical therapists to comprehensively assess the range of motion, strength, and joint stability of the affected shoulder, paving the way for a personalized treatment plan that addresses each patient's needs.


The shoulder exam is instrumental in monitoring progress and adjusting treatment plans for recovering from shoulder surgery or injury. Physical therapists leverage the exam to evaluate pain levels, track range of motion, and assess strength, determining the optimal timing for transitioning to the next rehabilitation phase.

This exam is an invaluable instrument for physical therapists, enabling precise diagnosis, tailored treatment, progress monitoring, and injury prevention, all contributing to optimal shoulder health.

Who can use these printable Shoulder Exams?

The printable can be used by various healthcare professionals who work with patients with shoulder pain or dysfunction. Here are some possible professionals who can use these exams:

  • Physical therapists: Physical therapists are experts in musculoskeletal evaluation and rehabilitation. They use the shoulder examination to evaluate patients' range of motion, strength, and joint stability and design a customized treatment plan based on their findings.
  • Occupational therapists: Occupational therapists work with patients to help them achieve independence in their daily activities. They use the shoulder examination to assess patients' functional limitations and develop a plan to improve their ability to perform everyday tasks.
  • Sports medicine physicians: Sports medicine physicians specialize in treating sports-related injuries. They use the shoulder examination to diagnose and manage shoulder injuries in athletes, such as rotator cuff tears, shoulder dislocations, and labral tears.
  • Orthopedic surgeons: Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. They use this exam to diagnose injuries and determine if surgical intervention is necessary.
  • Primary care physicians: Primary care physicians are often the first point of contact for patients with shoulder pain. They can use this exam to evaluate the patient's condition and refer them to a specialist if needed.
  • Chiropractors: Chiropractors use a non-invasive approach to treat musculoskeletal conditions, including shoulder pain. They can use this exam to assess the patient's condition and design a treatment plan that includes manual therapies, such as adjustments and soft tissue mobilization.

This clinical examination is vital to patient evaluation and treatment planning, whether in sports medicine, orthopedics, rehabilitation, or primary care. By collaborating with other healthcare professionals and utilizing this test, patients can receive comprehensive care that meets their unique needs and helps them achieve their treatment goals.

Benefits of free Shoulder Exam


A free shoulder exam saves healthcare professionals time, offering a ready-made assessment with standardized instructions and scoring. This efficiency allows them to dedicate more time to patient evaluation and treatment tasks than designing scratch assessments.


By relying on a free shoulder exam, healthcare professionals ensure uniform assessment practices across various patients and practitioners. This standardization facilitates improved comparisons and consistent tracking of patient progress over time.

Streamlined diagnosis

The free shoulder exam is an efficient tool for healthcare professionals to promptly identify and diagnose shoulder conditions, presenting a structured and organized approach to evaluation.

Tailored assessment

While standardized, a free shoulder exam retains customization flexibility to meet individual patients' unique needs. Healthcare professionals can adapt the exam by adding or removing specific assessment components to align with the patient's condition.


Opting for a free shoulder exam represents a cost-effective solution for healthcare professionals and clinics facing budget constraints. This option allows them to deliver high-quality patient care without shouldering additional financial burdens from purchasing expensive assessment tools.

Why use Carepatron for the Shoulder Exam software?

For healthcare professionals seeking a seamless and dependable solution for conducting shoulder exams, Carepatron stands out as the optimal choice. Tailored to streamline the shoulder exam process and clinical documentation, this software enhances efficiency and accuracy in diagnosing and treating patients grappling with shoulder pain or dysfunction.

Carepatron presents healthcare professionals with a comprehensive and customizable shoulder exam tool. Boasting objective measurement instruments, instructional videos, and automated scoring equips professionals with the necessary resources for a thorough examination. The software ensures secure patient data storage, facilitating easy accessibility and sharing among healthcare peers. Its intuitive design and user-friendly interface cater to both novice and experienced professionals.

Beyond its technical prowess, Carepatron distinguishes itself through exceptional customer support and consistent updates. This commitment ensures the software stays current, aligning with the evolving needs of healthcare professionals. By choosing Carepatron, healthcare professionals save time and enhance accuracy, delivering high-quality care to patients dealing with shoulder pain or dysfunction. Leap today and discover firsthand why Carepatron is the premier shoulder exam software in the market.

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General Practice Software
Who can use this free shoulder exam?
Who can use this free shoulder exam?

Commonly asked questions

Who can use this free shoulder exam?

The free shoulder exam is designed for healthcare professionals, particularly physical therapists, orthopedic specialists, and rehabilitation professionals who assess and treat shoulder conditions.

How do I use this free shoulder exam?

Utilizing the free shoulder exam is straightforward. Healthcare professionals can access the pre-designed assessment tool, follow standardized instructions and scoring provided, and tailor the examination based on individual patient needs.

Is this free shoulder exam reliable?

Yes, the reliability of the free shoulder exam is upheld by its standardized design, incorporating objective measurement tools and comprehensive assessments. It serves as a dependable resource for healthcare professionals in efficiently evaluating and diagnosing various shoulder conditions.

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