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Shoulder elevation assessment

Name of test


Shoulder elevation / forward flexion

What it tests


The patient's ability to forward elevate. This is similar to abduction, but in the sagittal plane.

How to do it


  • stand in front of the patient
  • Ask the patient to lift the arm in the sagittal plane as high as possible, ie to "touch the ceiling."
  • Assess the arc of motion but also if the patient can do it directly (as opposed to abducting and then adducting, ie elevating in the coronal plane preferentially).

The normal response


About 180 degrees.
Compare to the contralateral side.

What it means if not normal


Assess the difference between "can't do it" and "won't do it". If the patient simply won't do it, that's often from pain and rotator cuff tendinosis. If they can't do it, then passive motion has to be checked. Normal passive motion in the setting of abnormal active motion suggests rotator cuff failure or possibly a neurological injury.

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