Physical exam of the adolescent shoulder: tips for evaluating and diagnosing common shoulder disorders in the adolescent athlete

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Purpose of review

In the young athlete, the shoulder is one of the most frequently injured joints during sports activities. The injuries are either from an acute traumatic event or overuse. Shoulder examination can present some challenges; given the multiple joints involved, the difficulty palpating the underlying structures, and the potential to have both intra- and/or extra-articular problems.

Recent findings

Many of the shoulder examination tests can be positive in multiple problems. They usually have high sensitivity but low specificity and therefore low predictive value. The medical history coupled with a detailed physical exam can usually provide the information necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis. A proficient shoulder examination and the development of an adequate differential diagnosis are important before considering advanced imaging.


The shoulder complex relies upon the integrity of multiple structures for normal function. A detailed history is of paramount importance when evaluating young athletes with shoulder problems. A systematic physical examination is extremely important to guiding an accurate diagnosis. The patient's age and activity level are very important when considering the differential diagnosis. Findings obtain through history and physical examination should dictate the decision to obtain advanced imaging of the shoulder.

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