Ojective: To compile and critique research on the diagnostic accuracy of individual orthopedic physical examination tests in a manner which would allow clinicians to judge whether these tests are valuable to their practice.
Methods: A computer-assisted literature search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, and SPORTDiscus databases (1966 to October 2006) using keywords related to diagnostic accuracy of physical examination tests of the shoulder. The Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies (QUADAS) tool was used to critique the quality of each paper. Meta-analysis through meta-regression of the diagnostic odds ratio (DOR) was performed on the Neer test for impingement, the Hawkins-Kennedy test for impingement, and the Speed test for superior labral pathology.
Results: Forty-five studies were critiqued with only half demonstrating acceptable high quality and only 2 having adequate sample size. For impingement, meta-analysis revealed pooled sensitivity and specificity for the Neer test was 79% and 53%, respectively, and for the Hawkins-Kennedy test was 79% and 59%, respectively. For superior labral (SLAP) tears, the summary sensitivity and specificity of Speed’s test were 32% and 61%, respectively. Regarding OST’s where meta-analysis was not possible either due to a lack of sufficient studies or heterogeneity between studies, the list of OST’s that demonstrate both high sensitivity and high specificity is short: Hornblowers’s sign and the External Rotation Lag sign for tears of the rotator cuff, Biceps Load II for superior labral anterior to posterior (SLAP) lesions, and Apprehension, Relocation, and Anterior Release for anterior instability. Even these tests have been under-studied or are from lower quality studies or both. No tests for impingement or acromioclavicular (AC) joint pathology demonstrated significant diagnostic accuracy.
Conclusion: Based on pooled data, the diagnostic accuracy of the Neer test for impingement, the Hawkins-Kennedy test for impingement, and the Speed test for labral pathology is limited. There is a great need for large, prospective, well-designed studies that examine the diagnostic accuracy of the numerous physical examination tests of the shoulder. Currently, almost without exception, there is a lack of clarity with regard to whether common OST’s used in clinical examination are useful in differentially diagnosing pathologies of the shoulder.
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