Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


I took my son into the orthopedic surgeon for shoulder pain. I am reading the doctor's report, which says there is a positive "empty can test". What is this and what does it mean?


The empty can test refers to a position of the arm used to identify problems with the supraspinatus muscle. The supraspinatus is one of the four muscles/tendons that make up the shoulder rotator cuff.

The test was first described in the early 1980s by two very well-known orthopedic surgeons (Drs. Jobe and Moynes). The arm is raised out to the side with the elbow straight and the thumb pointing down towards the ground as if you were emptying out a can of soda pop.

The shoulder is fully rotated inward (internal rotation) during this test. Any weakness to resistance while in this position suggests a tear of the supraspinatus tendon.

Eiji Itoi, MD, et al. Are Pain Location and Physical Examination Useful in Locating a Tear Site of the Rotator Cuff? In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. February 2006. Vol. 34. No. 2. Pp. 256-264.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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