Empty Can Test

Original Editor - Tyler Shultz

Top Contributors - Rachael Lowe, Laura Ritchie, Tyler Shultz, Albert Alonso and Kai A. Sigel

Purpose

The Empty Can Test is used to assess the supraspinatus muscle and tendon.

Technique[1]

The patient can be seated or standing for this test. The patient's arm should be elevated to 90 degrees in the scapular plane, with the elbow extended, full internal rotation, and pronation of the forearm. This results in a thumbs-down position, as if the patient were pouring liquid out of a can. The therapist should stabilize the shoulder while applying a downwardly directed force to the arm, the patient tries to resist this motion. This test is considered positive if the patient experiences pain or weakness with resistance.

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Evidence

Boettcher CE, et al.[4] demonstrated with normalized EMG that the Empty Can Test activates supraspinatus to levels approximately 90% MVC. Concurrent activation of other shoulder muscles tested including other rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus and upper subscapularis), scapular positioning muscles (upper, middle and lower trapezius, and serratus anterior), and abduction torque producing muscles (anterior, middle & posterior deltoid) were activated to similarly high levels.

Therefore, the Empty Can Test must be questioned as a valid diagnostic tool for isolated supraspinatus pathology, due to the high activation of many shoulder muscles simultaneously.

References

  1. Jobe, F.W., Moynes D.R. (1982) Delineation of diagnostic criteria and a rehabilitation program for rotator cuff injuries. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 10, 336-339
  2. Physiotutors. Jobe / Empty Can Test | Shoulder Impingement. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BjDQ-jcBek
  3. Physiotutors. The Problem with "Can Tests" and a Better Alternative. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nphhgdDlHBE
  4. Boettcher CE, Ginn KA, Cathers I. The ‘empty can’ and ‘full can’ tests do not selectively activate supraspinatus. J Sci Med Sport (2008), doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2008.09.005