What Is Spurling's Test?

Neck pain is a positive sign of nerve compression in Spurling's test.
Pain caused by a compressed nerve in the neck may radiate through the back.
Movement of the spine when injured can be dangerous.
Spurling's test can be used to diagnose a compressed nerve in the neck.
Arm pain is a positive sign of nerve compression in Spurling's test.
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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2015
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Spurling's test is a diagnostic technique that can identify the presence of a compressed nerve in the neck. It involves the movement of a patient's head and neck in a particular manner to assess any pain that occurs subsequently. Neck and arm pain are a positive sign of nerve compression in the test. Possible causes of the nerve compression include injury to the vertebrae, a slipped disc or muscle spasms.

Pain in the neck or in the arm can be a sign of nerve compression in the cervical vertebrae of the spine. The cervical vertebrae are those in the neck area, and include the first seven vertebral bones, from the skull to the eighth vertebra, which attaches to the top ribs. The nerves that run through the cervical vertebrae are those that supply the top of the body, such as the neck and the arms, with sensation.


For Spurling's test, the patient normally sits or lies down. Then the medical professional extends the neck vertically, and turns the head toward the side that the patient feels pain on. After the head is turned, the medical professional places pressure downward on the head, and increases the pressure slowly until the patient displays a symptom such as pain, at which time the test should be stopped. Other indications to stop the test include other nervous symptoms such as numbness or tingling. If the cervical nerves are involved, these sensations tend to be in the neck and the arm areas.

If pain is produced during Spurling's test that is the same as the pain previously felt by the patient, then nerve compression is indicated. Various medical problems can cause compression, and these include muscle spasms, broken vertebral bones and slippage of the discs that act as cushions between the individual bones. Sometimes, though, Spurling's test results in a false positive if the patient is actually suffering from muscular strain or ligament problems which are unrelated to nerve compression.

This type of test carries a risk of serious damage to the patient, as movement of the spine when injured can be dangerous and may actually result in paralysis. This risk increases if the professional performing the test does not take special care to cause as little pain as possible, which is a sign of injury. For this reason, the test should not be performed by an untrained person, and possible spinal injuries should be investigated by a doctor.


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Post 3

Spurling's test isn't usually used on its own anyway. If there is enough pain to warrant it, there is enough pain to warrant other checks, like CT scans and so forth.

I really hope I never have that kind of pain in my neck or spine, because I have to say, once it starts you almost never get it to go away completely.

Post 2

@pastanaga - Well, I don't think it's that much of a danger. The spine can be damaged easily if you don't take care with it, of course, but a doctor will usually know how to be careful. And there are both good and bad chiropractors, but with the internet it's easier than ever to tell which ones are which.

I probably wouldn't go to a chiropractor unless my doctor recommended one to me. And for a compressed nerve I probably wouldn't go there anyway, since usually a doctor can take care of that without any extra help.

Post 1

I would be scared to even have a doctor perform this kind of test. The spine is so delicate when it comes to injury and bending it in a way that it's not meant to bend can only lead to trouble.

That's why I would never go to see a chiropractor either. They have such a lax system of registering, you can never tell whether the person you're seeing is a professional or a hack who mocked up a couple of certificates and put them on the wall.

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