Updated: 5/4/2020

Neck & Upper Extremity Spine Exam

Review Topic
Videos / Pods
https://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/2001/images/dermatomes arm_moved.jpg
https://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/2001/images/Brachial Plexus with sensory 566_moved.jpg
https://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/2001/images/brachial plexus dissection_moved.jpg
https://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/2001/images/illustration cervical vs 4_moved.jpg
https://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/2001/images/muscle grading system.jpg

Primary Motion
Tested Muscles
C4 Scapular Stabilization (winging) Upper portion of serratus anterior (significant variation in innervation, rarely tested clinically)
Upper shoudler, over clavicle
C5 Shoulder abduction
Elbow flexion (palm up)
Lateral arm below deltoid Biceps
C6 Elbow flexion (thumb up)
Wrist extension
Thumb and radial hand Brachioradialis
C7 Elbow extension
Wrist flexion

Fingers 2, 3, 4 Triceps
C8 Finger flexion, hand grip, thumb extension FDS Finger 5 -
T1 Finger abduction Interossei (ulnar n.) Medial elbow -
  • Brachial Plexus Illustrations  
  • Nerve root anatomy
    • key difference between cervical and lumbar spine is  
      • pedicle/nerve root mismatch
        • cervical spine C6 nerve root travels under C5 pedicle (mismatch) 
        • lumbar spine L5 nerve root travels under L5 pedicle (match)
        • extra C8 nerve root (no C8 pedicle) allows transition
      • horizontal (cervical) vs. vertical (lumbar) anatomy of nerve root
        • because of vertical anatomy of lumbar nerve root a paracentral and foraminal disc will affect different nerve roots
        • because of horizontal anatomy of cervical nerve root a central and foraminal disc will affect the same nerve root
Inspection, Palpation, ROM
  • Inspection
    • alignment in sagittal and coronal plane (e.g., kyphotic cervical spine)
    • prior surgical scars (e.g., prior ulnar nerve transposition or carpal tunnel surgery)
    • skin defects (e.g., cafe au lait spots associated with neurofibromatosis)
    • muscle atrophy (e.g., palsy will see decrease deltoid and biceps mass)
  • Palpation
    • palpate local tenderness on the spinal axis, asymmetic 
  • ROM
    • document range of motion in flexion, extension, rotation, and bend
    • may give absolute degrees or relative to anatomic landmark (e.g, chin rotates to right shoulder)
    • normal range of motion of cervical spine
      • flexion: 50 
      • extension: 60 
      • rotation: 80 
      • lateral bend: 45
Motor Testing
  • Grade key muscles groups from 0-5 using ASIA Grading System 
    • include at least one muscle from each nerve root group (C5 to T1)
Primary Motion
Primary Muscle
Nerve Root
Scapular stabilization topic Serratus Long thoracic n. C4
Shoulder abduction topic Deltoid Axillary n. C5
Shoulder internal rotation topic Subscapularis Subscapular n. C5
Shoulder external rotation topic Infraspinatus Suprascapular n. C5
Elbow flexion (palm up) topic Biceps & brachialis
Musculocutaneous n. C5
Elbow flexion (thumb up) topic Brachioradialis Radial n. C6
Wrist extension topic ECRL Radial n. C6
Wrist supination topic Supinator Deep branch Radial n. C6
Elbow extension topic Triceps Radial n. C7
Wrist flexion topic FCR & PL Median n. C7
Wrist pronation topic PT & PQ
Median n. C7
MCP & PIP Finger flexion topic FDS Median n.
DIP Finger  topic FDP Ulnar n. & AIN C8
Thumb extension topic EPL PIN C8
Finger abduction topic Interossei Deep branch Ulnar n.
Sensory Exam
  • Grade sensory in C5 to T1 dermatomes 
    • score using ASIA Sensory Grading System  
    • score major sensory types in all patients
      • pain (prick with sharp object such as paper clip, broken cue tip)
      • light touch (stroke lightly with finger)
    • score minor sensory types for focused exam
      • vibration (focused exam)
      • temperature (focused exam)
      • two-point discrimination (focused exam)
Provocative Tests
  • Spurlings Test 
    • foraminal compression test that is specific, but not sensitive, in diagnosing acute radiculopathy. 
    • it is performed by rotating head toward the affected side, extending the neck, and then applying and axial load (applying downward pressure on the head)
    • the test is considered positive if pain radiates into the ipsilateral arm when the test is performed for 30 seconds.
  • Hoffman's Test 
    • a positive test is sensitive but not specific for cervical myelopathy
    • performed in one of two ways
      • hold and secure the middle phalanx of the long finger and then flick the distal phalanx into an extended position. Involuntary contraction of the thumb IP joint is a positive test.
      • hold and secure the distal phalanx of the long finger and then flick the distal phalanx into an extended position. Involuntary contraction of the thumb IP joint is a positive test.
  • Lhermitte Sign 
    • a positive test is specific but not sensitive for cervical spinal cord compression and myelopathy
    • test is positive cervical flexion or extension leads to shockline sensation radiating down spinal axis and into arms and/or legs
  • Antalgic gait
    • caused by guarding for pain in affected extremity due to
      • hip and knee pathology
      • severe radicular symptoms
  • Trendelenburg gait
    • caused by painful arthritis of hip or gluteus medius weakness
  • wide-based shuffling gait
    • due to neurologic disorder including myelopathy
  • steppage or lateral swing gait
    • a method of gait compensation for a foot drop (weakness ankle dorsiflexion and toe extension)

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Evidence (4)
Private Note