Examiner reliability and clinical responsiveness of motion palpation to detect biomechanical dysfunction of the the hip joint
Bertolotti, Gina Leigh
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Background: Hip pain is a common problem. Motion palpation is a manual technique applied by the hands in various degrees of joint motion that specifically evaluates range of motion in relation to specific anatomical landmarks, joint play and end feel. Motion palpation remains one of the most used diagnostic techniques and yet it remains unclear whether or not it is a reliable, sensitive and specific tool; especially in the hip joint. Objectives: This study assessed intra- and inter-examiner reliability and clinical responsiveness of motion palpation when it is used as a diagnostic tool in patients with non-specific unilateral anterior hip pain and unilateral asymptomatic hip joints. Methods: Ten participants, between the ages of 18 and 60, were included in this study (three ballet dancers, three golfers and four participants from the general population). The participants were assessed randomly by three blinded examiners. All of the participants then received one adjustment delivered by the researcher (half on the symptomatic side and half on the asymptomatic). The participants were then re-assessed. Data was recorded on a data collection sheet and analysed using SPSS version 23. Intra-examiner reliability and clinical responsiveness were analysed using McNemar’s test and the Chi-Square Test of Independence. Inter-examiner reliability was analysed using Fleiss’ Kappa. Results: Intra-examiner reliability showed to be markedly better on the left-hand side for all three examiners. Kappa scores for inter-examiner reliability varied from none to perfect. The average pairwise agreement scores ranged from 33.3% to 100% at the first assessment, and from 46.6% to 100% in the second assessment. A mean and standard deviation were calculated for the pairwise agreements which represented the sensitivity and specificity respectively. Both showed improvement between the first and second assessments which is positive for inter-examiner reliability. Clinical responsiveness was shown to be absent for examiners A and B but was present for examiner C on the left. Conclusion: This study found that, contrary to the expectations of many clinicians, motion palpation has limited to poor levels of intra-examiner reliability, inter-examiner reliability and clinical responsiveness. This is however limited by the small sample size and methodological limitations in this study. Therefore, the role of palpation as a diagnostic tool used in the diagnosis hip dysfunction may be limited.