Drop Arm Test

Original Editor - Beth Reuschel

Top Contributors - Venus Pagare, Tony Lowe, Beth Reuschel, Laura Ritchie and Oyemi Sillo  


The drop arm test is used to assess for rotator cuff tears, particularly of the supraspinatus.

Test Position

Sitting or standing


Stand behind the seated patient and abduct patient's arm to 900, supporting the arm at the elbow. Release the elbow support, and ask patient to slowly lower the arm to the side.[1]


  • The test is negative if the patient is able to control the lowering of the arm slowly and without pain.
  • It is positive if there is pain while lowering the arm, sudden dropping of the arm or weakness in maintaining arm position during lowering (with or without pain), suggesting injury to the supraspinatus.[2][1]

Diagnostic Accuracy

  • Sensitivity: 7.8;
  • Specificity: 97.2;
  • Likelihood Ratio: +LR: 2.79; -LR: .95 [3]


A study of 53 patients suspected to have suffered rotator cuff tears compared physical examination tests to their shoulder MRI and ultrasonography results. The study found that the drop arm test had a 100% PPV and 10% sensitivity.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Klaus Buckup. Clinical Tests for the Musculoskeletal System: Examinations - Signs - Phenomena. 2nd ed. Germany: Thieme, 2008
  2. M. Lynn Palmer, Marcia E. Epler, Marcia F. Epler. Fundamentals of Musculoskeletal Assessment Techniques. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1998
  3. Calis M, et al. (2000). Diagnostic values of clinical diagnostic tests in subacromial impingement syndrome. Ann Rheum Dis. 59.1. 44-47. Web 10 Dec 2012.
  4. Gerard A. Malanga, Scott Nadler. Musculoskeletal Physical Examination: An Evidence-based Approach. Philadelphia: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2006.