Empty Can Test

Empty can Test is a manual muscle test for the supraspinatus in the shoulder. It is used to discover possible supraspinatus pathologies such as a subacromial impingement, or a musculotendinous lesion.


Passively abduct the shoulder to 90 degrees, flex to 30 degrees and point thumbs down. In this position, provide resistance as the patient lifts upward. Pain or weakness suggests possible tendonopathy or tear.


If weakness or pain occurs during the movement, the supraspinatus tendon could be affected in two different ways. However, pain alone does not always mean that a supraspinatus pathology is present.

  1. It could be impinged between the head of the humerus and the coracoacromial arch.
  2. It could also simply be inflamed, or contain a lesion.

Adverse effects

The Empty Can Test is not the most reliable test for a supraspinatus pathology. The Full Can Test is often recommended because it is less pain provoking.


Boettcher CE, et al. demonstrated with normalised EMG that the Empty Can Test activates supraspinatus to levels approximately 90% MVC.

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Burhan Ahmed is currently Editor-in-Chief at Medicalopedia.org. He completed his residency from Michigan State University in 2015. He has written three short revision books on Biology, Stomatology and Gynecology, has 4 publications to his name. He is pursuing career in cosmetic dermatology.


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