The Drop Arm Sign: A Simple Home Test to See if You Have a Rotator Cuff Tear

If you are one of the many people who suffer from shoulder weakness or shoulder pain, then you will want to read this. Because chances are you could be suffering from a rotator cuff tear and not even know it.

The good news is that you can do a simple home test to see if you have a rotator cuff tear. And it only takes a few seconds. It’s called the “drop arm sign” test. In this read, we will get into detail about shoulder and rotator cuff anatomy, the causes of the rotator cuff tears, and how to do the simple test.

Shoulder and Rotator Cuff Anatomy

The shoulder is a complex joint made up of three bones:

  • The shoulder blade also called the scapula
  • Collarbone also called the clavicle
  • The upper arm bone, also known as the humerus

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. It is formed by the upper end of the humerus, and the shoulder blade and the collarbone form the shoulder socket.

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that attach to the shoulder blade and help lift the arm. These muscles are:

  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres minor
  • Subscapularis

Causes of Rotator Cuff Tears

There are many different causes of rotator cuff tears, such as:

  • Age-related wear and tear
  • Injuries, such as a fall or car accident
  • Overuse, such as from repetitive overhead motions like pitching in baseball or painting ceilings
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Most Commonly Torn Tendon: Supraspinatus

The most commonly torn tendon in rotator cuff tears is the supraspinatus. This tendon helps lift the arm overhead. When it becomes torn, it can cause shoulder pain and weakness.

The second most commonly torn tendon in rotator cuff tears is the infraspinatus. This tendon helps rotate the arm outward. When it gets torn, it can cause shoulder pain and weakness.

Drop Arm Test – Positive vs. Negative

At this point, you might be wondering, how do I know if I have a rotator cuff tear? The answer is the “drop arm sign” test. This is a simple test you can do at home to see if you have a rotator cuff tear.

To do the drop arm sign test:

  • Have someone help you by holding your affected arm out to the side at shoulder level
  • Slowly lower your arm
  • If you have a rotator cuff tear, you will feel pain and weakness when you try to lower your arm, and your arm will not be able to stay at shoulder level

If you are experiencing shoulder weakness or pain, don’t wait another second. Do the drop arm sign test today and find out for sure if you have a rotator cuff tear.

What Can You Do if You Have a Positive Drop Arm Test?

If you have a positive drop arm sign test, you will likely need to see a doctor for further evaluation. A rotator cuff tear can be treated with either surgery or physical therapy.

The doctor will evaluate the severity of your rotator cuff tear and recommend the best course of treatment.

Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab Can Help

If you have a rotator cuff tear, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that the problem will get worse.

Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab has experienced, certified, and licensed physical therapists who can help you recover from a rotator cuff tear. We will develop a personalized treatment plan to help you regain strength and range of motion in your shoulder. Email us at or call 570-208-2787 to schedule an appointment.