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JAMA. 2004 Oct 27;292(16):1989-99.

Does this patient have an instability of the shoulder or a labrum lesion?

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  • 1The Netherlands Expert Centre for Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders, Erasmus, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



History taking and clinical tests are commonly used to diagnose shoulder pain. Unclear is whether tests and history accurately diagnose instability or intra-articular pathology (IAP).


To analyze the accuracy of clinical tests and history taking for shoulder instability or IAP.


Relevant studies identified through PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, and bibliographies of known primary and review articles.


Studies comparing the performance of history items or physical examination with a reference standard were included. Studies on fibromyalgia, fractures, or systemic disorders were excluded. Of 1449 articles, 35 were eligible, and 17 were selected.


Data were extracted on study population, clinical tests, reference tests, and outcome. The studies' methodological quality (patient spectrum, verification, blinding, and replication) was assessed with the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies (QUADAS) checklist.


Six tests showed positive likelihood ratios (LRs) and confidence intervals (CIs). Tests favoring the diagnosis for establishing instability included: relocation (LR, 6.5; 95% CI, 3.0-14.0) and anterior release (LR, 8.3; 95% CI, 3.6-19). Tests showing promise for establishing labral lesions included: the biceps load I and II (LR, 29; 95% CI, 7.3-115.0 and LR, 26; 95% CI, 8.6-80.0), respectively, pain provocation of Mimori (LR, 7.2; 95% CI, 1.6-32.0), and internal rotation resistance strength (LR, 25; 95% CI, 8.1-76.0). The apprehension, clunk, release, load and shift, and sulcus sign tests proved less useful. Results should be cautiously interpreted because studies were completed in select populations in orthopedic practice, mostly assessed by the test designers, and evaluated in single studies only. No accuracy studies were found for history taking or for clinical tests in primary care.


Shoulder complaints are frequently recurrent. Instability might cause some of these complaints. Best evidence supports the value of the relocation and anterior release tests. Symptoms related to IAP (labral tears) remain unclear. Most promising for establishing labral tears are currently the biceps load I and II, pain provocation of Mimori, and the internal rotation resistance strength tests.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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