What Motor Function is Consistent with C6?

  • The nerve root of C6 runs between vertebrae C5 and C6. 
  • Motor function includes:
    • strong bicep muscles (strong elbow flexion)
    • weak wrist extension 
    • tenodesis (ability to passively flex fingers with wrist extension)
    • shoulder rotation, adduction and abduction 

What Sensory Function is Consistent with C6?

  • C6 sensation:
    • includes thumb side of lower forearm
    • thumb (radial nerve)
    • first finger (median nerve)

Assessment of C6 Motor Function

Assess and document motor function using motor scale from 0-5. 


  • assess ability to rotate shoulder
  • assess ability to abduct arm at shoulder (away from body)
    • assess abduction against examiner resistance
  • assess ability to adduct arm at shoulder (toward body)
    • assesss adduction against examiner resistance
  • have patient flex or bend elbow 
  • evaluate the ability to bend the elbow while examiner holds forearm to create resistance
  • C6 provides strong bicep
  • assess ability to extend wrist
  • assess ability to extend wrist against resistance


  • observe digits during wrist extension; passive digit flexion occurs with C6 during wrist extension
  • assess ability to move thumb
Assessment of C6 Sensory Function    
  • Test one side, then test same spot on opposite side
  • Always apply the same amount of pressure to each side
  • Ask patient to compare sensation on side A to side B
  • Conceal test from the patient and test light touch and then pain separately. Test bilaterally  along thumb size of forearm, thumb and first finger

Light touch:

use wisp of cotton or tissue

Sharp or temperture touch:

use safety pin or blunt end needle

pain is a better assessment than temperature for this pathway because patients need to be able to articulate that they can distinguish hot or cold; this is unreliable among intubated patients

Expected Outcome    
  • feeding and grooming 
  • able to use assisted devices to grasp objects
  • can roll over and maneuver in bed 
  • may drive car with hand controls 
  • may be able to transfer ventilation



Barr, M, and Kiernan, J. (1993). The Human Nervous System: An Anatomical Viewpoint. Philadelphia: Lippincott. pp 84-85.

Keppler, J. (1987). Acute spinal cord injury. Critical Care Clinics. July. 3:3. pp. 638-641.

Netter, F. (1989). Atlas of Human Anatomy. New Jersey: Novartis.

Waxman, S. (1996). Correlative Neuroanatomy. 23rd Ed.  Stamford: Lange. pp 46-52, 352-355, 370.

Brenda Morgan
Clinical Nurse Specialist, CCTC
May 11, 2001. Updated: January 15, 2019