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Ann Rheum Dis. Jan 2000; 59(1): 5–11.
PMCID: PMC1752977

The Southampton examination schedule for the diagnosis of musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb


OBJECTIVES—Following a consensus statement from a multidisciplinary UK workshop, a structured examination schedule was developed for the diagnosis and classification of musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb. The aim of this study was to test the repeatability and the validity of the newly developed schedule in a hospital setting.
METHOD—43 consecutive referrals to a soft tissue rheumatism clinic (group 1) and 45 subjects with one of a list of specific upper limb disorders (including shoulder capsulitis, rotator cuff tendinitis, lateral epicondylitis and tenosynovitis) (group 2), were recruited from hospital rheumatology and orthopaedic outpatient clinics. All 88 subjects were examined by a research nurse (blinded to diagnosis), and everyone from group 1 was independently examined by a rheumatologist. Between observer agreement was assessed among subjects from group 1 by calculating Cohen's κ for dichotomous physical signs, and mean differences with limits of agreement for measured ranges of joint movement. To assess the validity of the examination, a pre-defined algorithm was applied to the nurse's examination findings in patients from both groups, and the sensitivity and specificity of the derived diagnoses were determined in comparison with the clinic's independent diagnosis as the reference standard.
RESULTS—The between observer repeatability of physical signs varied from good to excellent, with κ coefficients of 0.66 to 1.00 for most categorical observations, and mean absolute differences of 1.4°-11.9° for measurements of shoulder movement. The sensitivity of the schedule in comparison with the reference standard varied between diagnoses from 58%-100%, while the specificities ranged from 84%-100%. The nurse and the clinic physician generally agreed in their diagnoses, but in the presence of shoulder capsulitis the nurse usually also diagnosed shoulder tendinitis, whereas the clinic physician did not.
CONCLUSION—The new examination protocol is repeatable and gives acceptable diagnostic accuracy in a hospital setting. Examination can feasibly be delegated to a trained nurse, and the protocol has the benefit of face and construct validity as well as consensus backing. Its performance in the community, where disease is less clear cut, merits separate evaluation, and further refinement is needed to discriminate between discrete pathologies at the shoulder.

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Selected References

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