Ultrasound measures of tendon thickness: Intra-rater, Inter-rater and Inter-machine reliability

María Elena Del Baño-Aledo, Jacinto Javier Martínez-Payá, José Ríos-Díaz, Silvia Mejías-Suárez, Sergio Serrano-Carmona, Ana de Groot-Ferrando
Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal 2017, 7 (1): 192-199

BACKGROUND: Ultrasound imaging is often used by physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals but the reliability of image acquisition with different ultrasound machines is unknown. The objective was to compare the intra-rater, inter-rater and intermachine reliability of thickness measurements of the plantar fascia (PF), Achilles tendon (AT), patellar tendon (PT) and elbow common extensor tendon (ECET) with musculoskeletal ultrasound imaging (MSUS).

METHODS: Tendon thickness was measured in four anatomical structures (14 participants, 28 images per tendon) by two sonographers and with two different ultrasound machines. Intraclass Correlation Coefficients (ICCs) and Bland-Altman plots were calculated. The standard error of measurement (SEM) and minimum detectable difference (MDD) were calculated.

RESULTS: Inter-rater reliability was excellent for AT (ICC=0.98; 95% CI= 0.96-0.99) and very good for PT (ICC=0.85; 95% CI = 0.67-0.93) and ECET (ICC=0.81; 95% CI= 0.72-0.94). Reliability for PF was moderate, with an ICC of 0.63 (CI 95%= 0.20-0.83). Bland-Altman plot for inter-machine reliability showed a mean difference of 1 m for PF measurements and a mean difference of 4 m and 20 m for AT and PT. The relative SEMs were below 7% and the MDCs were below 0.7 mm.

CONCLUSION: The MSUS reliability in measuring thickness of the four tendons is confirmed by the homogeneous readings intra sonographers, between operators and between different machines. Level of evidence: Tendon thickness can be measured reliably on different ultrasound devices, which is an important step forward in the use of this technique in daily clinical practice and research.


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