Background Narrowing of the subacromial space has been noted as a common feature of rotator cuff (RC) tendinopathy. It has been implicated in the development of symptoms and forms the basis for some surgical and rehabilitation approaches. Various radiological methods have been used to measure the subacromial space, which is represented by a two-dimensional measurement of acromiohumeral distance (AHD). A reliable method of measurement could be used to assess the impact of rehabilitation or surgical interventions for RC tendinopathy; however, there are no published reviews assessing the reliability of AHD measurement.
Objectives The aim of this review was to systematically assess the evidence for the intrarater and inter-rater reliability of radiological methods of measuring AHD, in order to identify the most reliable method for use in RC tendinopathy.
Study appraisal and synthesis An electronic literature search was carried out and studies describing the reliability of any radiological method of measuring AHD in either healthy or RC tendinopathy groups were included. Eighteen studies met the inclusion criteria and were appraised by two reviewers using the Quality Appraisal for reliability Studies checklist.
Results Eight studies were deemed to be of high methodological quality. Study weaknesses included lack of tester blinding, inadequate description of tester experience, lack of inclusion of symptomatic populations, poor reporting of statistical methods and unclear diagnosis. There was strong evidence for the reliability of ultrasound for measuring AHD, with moderate evidence for MRI and CT measures and conflicting evidence for radiographic methods. Overall, there was lack of research in RC tendinopathy populations, with only six studies including participants with shoulder pain.
Conclusions The results support the reliability of ultrasound and CT or MRI for the measurement of AHD; however, more studies in symptomatic populations are required. The reliability of AHD measurement using radiographs has not been supported by the studies reviewed.
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