A physician's guide to the physical examination of the shoulder
Shoulder pain is the third most frequent musculoskeletal complaint presented to physicians. Often considered a benign entity by patients and even their physicians, shoulder disorders can have a devastating effect on a patient's ability to function, as well as serve as an indicator of poor general health. For these reasons, it is important for the physician to be able to identify the etiology of a patient's shoulder problem(s). However, making a correct diagnosis is often difficult because there can be many causes for a patient's shoulder pain, weakness, or loss of function. Moreover, the shoulder girdle is an intricate group of structures that work together to allow for the largest range of motion in the body. This complexity makes it difficult to diagnose a patient's condition(s) based on history alone. A thorough and well-performed physical examination is the key to making a correct diagnosis and helping to distinguish different etiologies of shoulder dysfunction. In this article, we review relevant shoulder anatomy and biomechanics, and general shoulder examinations with special tests for various shoulder pathologies. We provide an effective and methodical approach to the physical examination of the shoulder.