Neer's Test for Rotator Cuff Impingement

Neer's test is a simple exam that assesses if your shoulder pain and limited range of motion may be caused by an impingement (pinching of tissue). Your doctor or physical therapist can perform the Neer impingement test as a part of a comprehensive shoulder examination.

A therapist stretching a patient's shoulder.
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There are many causes of shoulder pain: frozen shoulder, rotator cuff impingement or tear, labrum tear, bursitis, or arthritis. You may also feel shoulder pain from a pinched nerve in your neck. Given the possibilities, Neer's test is only one of several special shoulder tests that doctors use to determine the cause of such pain.

While a medical professional is best qualified to perform Neer's test and interpret its results, you can do it at home to get an idea of what might be causing your shoulder pain. Then, be sure to follow up with your physician.

Performing the Neer's Test

To perform Neer's test, recruit a friend or family member to help. Follow these steps using the arm on the side of the affected shoulder:

  1. Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight and arms at your sides.
  2. Keeping your arm straight, lift it out to the side and up overhead as high as possible.
  3. When your arm is fully raised overhead, have your partner push your arm up even further by putting one of their hands on your arm and the other on your shoulder blade (to support it).

When your arm is raised overhead and pushed to the limit, the space inside your shoulder where your rotator cuff tendons and shoulder bursa reside (called the sub-acromial space) becomes smaller.

If you feel pain in your shoulder, then Neer's test is considered positive, meaning that your pain is likely caused by impingement of the tendons or bursa in your shoulder.

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

Next Steps When Results Are Positive

If the Neer's test indicates a shoulder impingement, 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.

The Neer's test merely reveals if you have shoulder impingement; it doesn't reveal what structure in your shoulder is being pinched (e.g., your shoulder bursa, rotator cuff, biceps tendon). Further examination of your shoulder mobility and strength is needed to form a complete picture of your shoulder condition, and only a trained medical professional can do that.

Possible outcomes:

  • Sometimes loss of range of motion (ROM) may be causing your shoulder impingement. Your physical therapist can prescribe ROM exercises to help this. You may also benefit from using a shoulder pulley system to restore pain-free range of motion.
  • If weakness in your rotator cuff muscles causes your shoulder impingement, your therapist will likely prescribe specific rotator cuff exercises and scapular strengthening exercises to help improve shoulder stability.
  • 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. (Therapeutic modalities should not be the only treatment you receive during 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 a last resort to get full, pain-free mobility back in your shoulder.  

A Word From Verywell

Again, while you can perform Neer's test on your own, only a trained 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.

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Article Sources
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