Special physical examination tests for superior labrum anterior-posterior shoulder tears: an examination of clinical usefulness

Michelle A Sandrey
Journal of Athletic Training 2013, 48 (6): 856-8

REFERENCE/CITATION: Calvert E, Chambers GK, Regan W, Hawkins RH, Leith JM. Special physical examination tests for superior labrum anterior-posterior shoulder injuries are clinically limited and invalid: a diagnostic systematic review. J Clin Epidemiol. 2009;62(5):558-563.

CLINICAL QUESTION: The systematic review focused on diagnostic accuracy studies to determine if evidence was sufficient to support the use of superior labrum anterior-posterior (SLAP) physical examination tests as valid and reliable. The primary question was whether there was sufficient evidence in the published literature to support the use of SLAP physical examination tests as valid and reliable diagnostic test procedures.

DATA SOURCES: Studies published in English were identified through database searches on MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane database (1970-2004) using the search term SLAP lesions. The medical subject headings of arthroscopy, shoulder joint, and athletic injuries were combined with test or testing, physical examination, and sensitivity and specificity to locate additional sources. Other sources were identified by rereviewing the reference lists of included studies and review articles.

STUDY SELECTION: Studies were eligible based on the following criteria: (1) published in English, (2) focused on the physical examination of SLAP lesions, and (3) presented original data. A study was excluded if the article was limited to a clinical description of 1 or more special tests without any research focus to provide clinical accuracy data or if it did not focus on the topic.

DATA EXTRACTION: The abstracts that were located through the search strategies were reviewed, and potentially relevant abstracts were selected. Strict epidemiologic methods were used to obtain and collate all relevant studies; the authors developed a study questionnaire to record study name, year of publication, study design, sample size, and statistics. Validity of the diagnostic test study was determined by applying the 5 criteria proposed by Calvert et al. If the study met the inclusion and validity criteria, 95% confidence intervals were calculated for each sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative likelihood ratio reported. No specific information was provided about the procedure if the reviewers disagreed on how the evaluation criteria were applied.

MAIN RESULTS: The specific search criteria led to the identification of 29 full-text articles. The studies were reviewed, and inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied. This resulted in 14 excluded studies and 15 eligible studies for analysis. Of the 15 eligible studies, 1 evaluated only a single physical examination test for a SLAP lesion or biceps tendon injury, and 10 studies evaluated 2 to 6 physical examination tests for a SLAP lesion or biceps tendon injury. Nine studies reported sensitivities and specificities greater than 75%, 4 had sensitivities less than 75%, 3 had specificities less than 75%, 1 did not report sensitivity, and 2 did not report specificities. When validity was assessed for those 15 papers, only 1 study that evaluated the biceps tendon met the 5 critical appraisal criteria of Calvert et al and calculated 95% confidence intervals. When the Speed and Yergason tests were each compared with the gold standard (arthroscopy), the confidence intervals for the positive and negative likelihood ratios spanned 1. This indicated that the test result is unlikely to change the odds of having or not having the condition, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: The literature currently used as a reference for teaching in medical schools and continuing education lacks the necessary validity to help rule in or out a SLAP lesion or biceps tendon involvement. Based on the results from the systematic review conducted by Calvert et al, no tests clinically diagnose a SLAP lesion. This is a cause for concern as magnetic resonance imaging or magnetic resonance arthrography, which are frequently used to assess a possible SLAP lesion, may also have diagnostic flaws and may be cost prohibitive. Performing arthroscopy on every patient to rule the condition in or out is unethical, especially if a SLAP lesion is not present. More rigorous validity studies should be conducted for SLAP lesion physical examination tests using the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies (QUADAS) tool or Standards for Reporting Diagnostic Accuracy (STARD) criteria.

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