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J Am Geriatr Soc. 2000 Dec;48(12):1633-7.

Returning to the bedside: using the history and physical examination to identify rotator cuff tears.

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  • 1Department of General Internal Medicine, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio 44195, USA.



To determine the value of elements of the bedside history and physical examination in predicting arthrography results in older patients with suspected rotator cuff tear (RCT).


Retrospective chart review


Orthopedic practice limited to disorders of the shoulder


448 consecutive patients with suspected RCT referred for arthrography over a 4-year period


Presence of partial or complete RCT on arthrogram


301 patients (67.2%) had evidence of complete or partial RCT. Clinical findings in the univariate analysis most closely associated with rotator cuff tear included infra- and supraspinatus atrophy (P < .001), weakness with either elevation (P < .001) or external rotation (P < .001), arc of pain (P = .004), and impingement sign (P = .01). Stepwise logistic regression based on a derivation dataset (n = 191) showed that weakness with external rotation (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) 6.96 (3.09, 13.03)), age > or = 65 (AOR 4.05(2.47, 16.07)), and night pain (AOR 2.61 (1.004, 7.39)) best predicted the presence of RCT. A five-point scoring system developed from this model was applied in the remaining patient sample (n = 216) to test validity. No significant differences in performance were noted using ROC curve comparison. Using likelihood ratios, a clinical score = 4 was superior in predicting RCT to the diagnostic prediction of an expert clinician. This score had specificity equivalent to magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasonography in diagnosis of RCT.


The presence of three simple features in the history and physical examination of the shoulder can identify RCT efficiently. This approach offers a valuable strategy to diagnosis at the bedside without compromising sensitivity or specificity.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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