Name of test

Shoulder abduction

What it tests

The extent of active abduction.

How to do it

  • stand behind the patient
  • ask the patient to bring up both arms in the coronal plane, "like airplane wings."
  • If the patient cannot do this actively, gently assist, and measure passive motion

The normal response

About 160 degrees.

What it means if not normal

The joint may be constricted or it may be painful. Note also differences between active and passive motion. The loss of active but not passive motion implies a rotator cuff problem. (It also could be a deltoid problem, but less likely.) If the restrictions are both active and passive, the joint is either contracted or arthritic.


Note that even if the gleno-humeral joint were fused, some motion, via scapulothoracic substitution, can occur.

If the patient does not externally rotate the arm (palms up) while doing this, the greater tuberosity may block motion.



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