Tests to Measure Shoulder Function

Physical therapists (PTs) treating patients with shoulder pain and loss of motion need reliable tests to measure the outcome of treatment. In this study two PTs from Taiwan measure the reliability of three tests of shoulder function. Forty-six (46) patients with shoulder problems and 46 healthy subjects (control group) with no shoulder problems were included.

The three tests were 1) hand-to-neck, 2) hand-to-scapula, and 3) hand-to-opposite scapula. For the hand-to-neck test, the patient or subject reached up and puts both hands on the back of the neck. The therapist gave a score from zero to four based on where the fingers touched the neck.

For the hand-to-scapula test the patient or subject reached the hand behind the back and up as close to the scapula (shoulder blade) as possible. A similar scoring test was used with points given for distance reached. The final test (hand-to-opposite scapula) required each person to reach across the front of the body to touch the top of the opposite shoulder as far back toward the scapula as possible.

Each patient and each control group subject were tested by two different PTs. There was at least 20 minutes between each testing. The therapists did not know the results of the other PT. This is a measure of interrater reliability. In other words, how accurate are the results when the test is used by different people?

The second test of intrarater reliability was performed by having the therapists retest each person three to five days later. Intrarater reliability shows how well the test works when given over time by the same person. A useful test has both intrarater and interrater reliability.

The results showed that all three tests have high intra- and interrater reliability. This was true for different types of shoulder problems. Each test measured a different shoulder motion and function. The authors comment that although the tests are easy to use and reliable, other means of assessing movement and endurance are still needed.

Reference: 

Jing-Ian Yang, PT, MS, and Jiu-jenq Lin, PT, PhD. Reliability of Function-Related Tests in Patients with Shoulder Pathologies. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. August 2006. Vol. 36. No. 8. Pp. 572-576.

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