The Shoulder Flexibility Test: Know Your Joint Mobility

A simple measurement that gauges your shoulder joint mobility

man stretching shoulders
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The shoulder flexibility test is a simple measurement of the flexibility and mobility of your shoulder joint. Also called the reach test, it is used to test your range of motion. The goal of the shoulder flexibility test is to prevent overexertion and prevent injury during athletic performance, especially for those who participate in sports that use the shoulder consistently. Examples include swimming, tennis, lacrosse, racquetball or any sports that require throwing or catching.

Shoulder Tightness 

Because tightness in the upper back, neck and shoulder is often related to muscle pain and stiffness, testing your shoulder flexibility may help determine your risk for future pain and injury. The shoulder flexibility test has been used by exercise physiologists and physical therapists to assess baseline flexibility before starting an exercise or rehab program and is repeated after several weeks to determine progress. After the test, improve your range of motion with these flexibility exercises and is often used by swimmers and tennis players to improve flexibility for their sport.

How to Perform the Shoulder Flexibility Test

  • To test your left shoulder flexibility, stand and raise your right arm straight up overhead.
  • Bend your right elbow and let your right palm rest on the back of your neck and slide it down your back and between your shoulder blades.
  • Reach behind you with your left hand so the back of your hand rests on the middle of your back.
  • Now slide your right hand down and your left hand up to try to touch the fingers of both hands.
  • Measure the minimum distance between the fingertips of the right and left hand. Record any overlap as well.
  • Switch your hands to perform the test on the opposite shoulder.

Shoulder Flexibility Test Results

  • Excellent = Fingers overlap
  • Good = Fingers touch
  • Average = Fingers are less than two inches apart
  • Poor = Fingers are more than two inches apart

Improve Your Flexibility

If you have less than adequate flexibility, you can increase your flexibility by stretching the major muscle groups at least three times a week. For more ways to improve flexibility, see the following articles.

Recovering from Injury or Accident

You may have been introduced to the shoulder flexibility test after an injury or accident. If this is the case, you may take the test multiple times over a short period. This is done to ensure that you are receiving the best therapy for your injury and to make sure you are progressing according to plan. Common injuries that require regular monitoring are shoulder subluxations, dislocations, and sprains. By testing your reach regularly you can get more and more comfortable with your shoulder after an injury. 

Sources:

American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Edition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: Philadelphia; 2006.

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