Neer's Test to See if You Have Rotator Cuff Impingement

Special Test for Shoulder Pain

A therapist stretching a patient's shoulder.
Your PT can perform Neer's test to see if you have shoulder impingement. DNY59

Neer's test is a shoulder special test to assess if shoulder impingement may be causing your pain and limited shoulder motion. Your doctor or physical therapist can perform Neer's test as a part of your comprehensive shoulder examination.

If you have shoulder pain, you may understand how the pain can limit your ability to raise your arm overhead and use your arm normally.  You may feel pain when lifting your arm out to the side, a condition known as a painful arc.

There are many causes of shoulder pain.  These may include frozen shoulder, rotator cuff impingement or tear, labrum tear, bursitis, or arthritis.  You may also feel shoulder pain that is coming from a pinched nerve in your neck.

Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to help you manage your shoulder pain.  He or she may perform special tests on your shoulder to help determine the cause of your pain.  The results of his examination and tests can help guide your treatment for your shoulder pain.

Neer's test is a special test for your shoulder.  It determines if rotator cuff impingement is causing your pain.

Performing Neer's Test

To perform Neer's test, you need to recruit a friend or family member to help you.  Here is how you do it:

  • Sit comfortably on a chair.
  • Have your partner raise your arm with the shoulder pain up in front of you and overhead as far as possible.
  • When your arm is fully raised overhead, have your partner push your arm up even further.  He should use one hand on your arm and the other hand supporting your shoulder blade.
  • When your arm is raised overhead and pushed to the limit, the space where your rotator cuff tendons and shoulder bursa (called the sub-acromial space) reside becomes smaller.
  • If pain is elicited in your shoulder, then Neer's test is considered positive, meaning that your shoulder pain is likely caused by impingement of the tendons or bursa in your shoulder.

    After your friend tests your painful shoulder, it is a good idea to test your non-painful shoulder, just to get an idea of what a  "normal" Neer's test feels like.

    Neer's Test is Positive. Now What?

    If you have performed Neer's test and it indicates that you have shoulder impingement, it is best for you to visit your doctor.  He or she may refer you to a physical therapist to help determine why the structures in your shoulder are getting pinched.

    Neer's test merely tells your PT if you have shoulder impingement; it does not tell your therapist what structure in your shoulder is being pinched. Is it your shoudler bursa? Your rotator cuff? Your biceps tendon? Further examination of your shoulder mobility and strength is needed to form a complete picture of your shoudler condition.

    Sometimes loss of range of motion (ROM) may be causing your shoulder impingement.  Your physical therapist can prescribe ROM exercises for your shoulder.  You may also benefit from using a shoulder pulley system to restore pain free shoulder range of motion.

    If weakness in your rotator cuff muscles is a cause of your shoulder impingement, your therapist will likely prescribe specific rotator cuff exercises and scapular strengthening exercises to help improve the stability of your shoulder.

    Your physical therapist may also choose to use therapeutic modalities to help manage your shoulder impingement.  These treatments serve to augment your shoulder rehab, and can help decrease pain and inflammation in your shoulder.  Therapeutic modalities should not be the only treatment that you receive during your physical therapy sessions.

    If you have seen a physical therapist for shoulder impingement and your pain continues, then you may require more invasive treatments like cortisone injections.  Shoulder surgery, called a sub-acromial decompression, may be required to get full, pain free mobility back in your shoulder.  

    If have shoulder pain, you may benefit from performing special tests on your shoulder to help determine the cause of your pain.  Neer's test is one such test that you can do to see if rotator cuff  is a cause of your pain.  If it is, then you can seek out the proper treatment for your shoulder.

    Remember, you can perform Neer's test on your own, but only a trained and qualified healthcare provider is able to fully understand the meaning of certain tests and measures for your shoulder.  It is always a good idea to check in with your doctor before performing any specific exercises or maneuvers with your shoulders.

    Continue Reading