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.

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What Is A Shoulder Exam?

A shoulder exam is a medical assessment that involves a series of tests and evaluations to assess the function and health of the shoulder joint. The exam is typically performed by a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer, and may be ordered for various reasons, such as to diagnose a shoulder injury or condition, evaluate shoulder pain, or assess a range of motion and strength.

During a shoulder exam, the healthcare professional will typically begin by taking a detailed medical history and asking about any previous shoulder injuries or conditions. They may then perform a physical examination, including observing the shoulder for swelling or deformities, palpating (feeling) the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles, and assessing a range of motion and strength through various movements and exercises.

As part of a shoulder exam, additional tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound imaging may be performed to provide more detailed information about the structure and function of the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues. The healthcare professional can make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan based on the exam results and any additional tests, which may include physical therapy, medication, or, in some cases, surgery.

Printable Shoulder Exam

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

How To Use This Shoulder Exam Test

A shoulder exam is an essential assessment tool physical therapists use to diagnose and treat shoulder injuries and pathologies. It involves a series of tests and assessments to evaluate the patient's shoulder joint mobility, muscle strength, and functional deficits. In this section, we will walk you through the process of using a sample assessment tool for a shoulder exam, including what to observe, assess, and test during the exam.

Gather Patient Information

Begin by gathering the patient's personal and medical information, such as their name, age, gender, chief complaint, date of injury or onset of symptoms, and occupation or sport.

Perform Observation

Observe the patient's shoulder area for signs of swelling, deformities, redness, or muscle atrophy. Also, compare the injured shoulder with the opposite shoulder to identify any differences in alignment, posture, or appearance.

Assess Range of Motion (ROM)

Assess the patient's active and passive ROM of the shoulder joint, including flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. Note any pain, crepitus, or abnormal end-feel of the joint during movement.

Evaluate Strength

Assess the patient's muscle strength of the shoulder joint by performing manual muscle testing and isometric testing or handheld dynamometry. Note any weakness, muscle imbalances, or compensatory movements during strength testing.

Perform Special Tests

Perform special 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 identify any specific shoulder pathologies or impingements.

Palpate the Shoulder Area

Palpate the shoulder joint, clavicle, scapula, acromioclavicular joint, coracoid process, bicipital groove, and surrounding soft tissues to identify any tenderness, swelling, or deformities.

Assess Functional Deficits

Assess the patient's functional deficits by identifying any limitations or difficulties with daily activities such as reaching overhead, dressing, and lifting. Also, assess for functional deficits in sports-specific movements or occupational tasks.

Order Additional Tests if Needed

Order additional imaging studies such as X-rays, MRI, or ultrasound to confirm or rule out a specific diagnosis if needed.

Develop a Treatment Plan

Based on the results of the shoulder exam, develop a treatment plan that includes specific exercises, manual therapy techniques, activity modifications, and patient education to address the patient's shoulder pathology and functional deficits. Regularly reassess the patient's progress and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

Shoulder Exam Example (Sample)

To master the art of administering the shoulder exam tool, studying a well-executed example is the best way to go. In this hypothetical scenario, John, a 47-year-old male construction worker, presented with right shoulder pain that had been ongoing for two months. Upon examination, the physical therapist found a limited active and passive range of motion with mild weakness noted during manual muscle testing. Special tests were positive for possible rotator cuff tendinitis, while palpation revealed mild tenderness in the bicipital groove. The functional assessment indicated difficulty reaching overhead and lifting heavy objects, which affected John's job.

Based on the assessment, the physical therapist diagnosed John with rotator cuff tendinitis and prescribed exercises, manual therapy, and activity modifications. X-ray and MRI were ordered for further evaluation. John was educated on the importance of posture, body mechanics, and ergonomics to prevent future injuries. With this treatment plan, John can expect to improve his range of motion, decrease pain, and return to work without limitation.

Download this Shoulder Exam Example (Sample) here:

Shoulder Exam Example (Sample)

When Would You Typically Use This Shoulder Exam?

A shoulder exam is a crucial tool physical therapists use to assess shoulder pain and dysfunction. This exam is typically used in various clinical settings, including sports medicine, orthopedics, and rehabilitation. Here are some scenarios when a physical therapist might use this shoulder exam:

  • Sports Medicine: Athletes frequently suffer from shoulder injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, shoulder dislocations, and labral tears. A physical therapist can use the shoulder exam to diagnose the injury and design a rehabilitation program to help the athlete return to sport safely. The exam can also screen athletes for potential shoulder injuries and prevent further damage.
  • Orthopedics: Patients with orthopedic conditions, such as frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis, or impingement syndrome, can benefit from a shoulder exam. A physical therapist can use the exam to evaluate the patient's range of motion, strength, and joint stability. The exam findings can guide the development of a customized treatment plan that addresses the patient's unique needs.
  • Rehabilitation: A shoulder exam can benefit patients undergoing rehabilitation after shoulder surgery or injury. The exam can help the physical therapist monitor the patient's progress and adjust the treatment plan. The therapist can use the exam to assess the patient's pain level, range of motion, and strength and determine when the patient is ready to progress to the next rehabilitation phase.

Overall, the shoulder exam is a valuable tool that physical therapists can use to diagnose and treat shoulder injuries, monitor progress, and prevent future injuries.

Who Can Use these Printable Shoulder Exams?

The printable shoulder exam 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 exam 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 exam 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 exam 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 the shoulder 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 the shoulder 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 the shoulder exam to assess the patient's condition and design a treatment plan that includes manual therapies, such as adjustments and soft tissue mobilization.

The shoulder exam 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 the shoulder exam, patients can receive comprehensive care that meets their unique needs and helps them achieve their treatment goals.

Why Is This Assessment Popular With Physical Therapists?

Comprehensive Evaluation

The shoulder exam comprehensively evaluates the patient's shoulder joint, including a range of motion, strength, joint stability, and functional limitations. This information helps the physical therapist develop a customized treatment plan addressing the patient's needs.

Accurate Diagnosis

The shoulder exam can help physical therapists accurately diagnose various shoulder conditions, such as rotator cuff tears, labral tears, impingement syndrome, and frozen shoulder. Accurate diagnosis is critical for developing an effective treatment plan and avoiding unnecessary interventions.

Objective Measurement

The shoulder exam includes objective measurement tools, such as goniometry and strength testing, that help physical therapists track the patient's progress and adjust the treatment plan. Objective measurement also helps demonstrate physical therapy's effectiveness to patients, insurance companies, and other healthcare professionals.

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Commonly asked questions

Who can use this free shoulder exam?

Any healthcare professional who works with patients with shoulder pain or dysfunction can use this free shoulder exam. This includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, sports medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons, primary care physicians, and chiropractors.

How do I use this free shoulder exam?

To use a free shoulder exam, simply download and print the template. Follow the instructions in the template to perform the exam, including evaluating the range of motion, strength, joint stability, and functional limitations. Record the patient's scores and use them to develop a customized treatment plan.

Is this free shoulder exam reliable?

This free shoulder exam is reliable if reputable healthcare professionals or organizations design them. Ensuring the exam is up-to-date and includes standardized instructions and scoring is essential. Additionally, healthcare professionals should use their clinical judgment and experience to interpret the exam results and develop a customized treatment plan for each patient.

Benefits Of Free Shoulder Exam


A free shoulder exam saves healthcare professionals time by providing a pre-designed exam with standardized instructions and scoring. This allows them to focus more on evaluating and treating patients instead of designing an assessment from scratch.


A free shoulder exam ensures consistent assessment across different patients and healthcare professionals. This allows for better comparisons and tracking of patient progress over time.


A free shoulder exam helps healthcare professionals efficiently identify and diagnose shoulder conditions, providing a structured and organized approach to evaluation.


Although a free shoulder exam is standardized, it can still be customized to fit the needs of individual patients. Healthcare professionals can add or remove assessment components to tailor the exam to the patient's specific condition.


A free shoulder exam is a cost-effective option for healthcare professionals and clinics that may need more resources to purchase expensive assessment tools. It allows them to provide high-quality patient care without additional financial burdens.

Why Use Carepatron For Shoulder Exam Software?

If you're a healthcare professional looking for an efficient and reliable way to perform shoulder exams, look no further than Carepatron. This software is designed to streamline the shoulder exam process, making it easier and more accurate for healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients with shoulder pain or dysfunction.

With Carepatron, healthcare professionals can access a comprehensive and customizable shoulder exam tool that includes objective measurement tools, instructional videos, and automatic scoring. This software also allows for secure patient data storage, which can be easily accessed and shared with other healthcare professionals. Plus, the intuitive design and user-friendly interface make it easy for novice and experienced healthcare professionals to use.

In addition to its technical capabilities, Carepatron offers exceptional customer support and ongoing updates to ensure that the software remains up-to-date and meets the evolving needs of healthcare professionals. With Carepatron, healthcare professionals can save time, improve accuracy, and provide high-quality care to their patients with shoulder pain or dysfunction. Try it out today and see for yourself why Carepatron is the leading shoulder exam software on the market.

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Who can use this free shoulder exam?
Who can use this free shoulder exam?
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