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Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2012 Oct;91(10):856-62.

A comparison of manual and quantitative elbow strength testing.

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From the Orthopedic Biomechanics/Motion Analysis Laboratory, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA.



The aim of this study was to compare the clinical ratings of elbow strength obtained by skilled clinicians with objective strength measurement obtained through quantitative testing.


A retrospective comparison of subject clinical records with quantitative strength testing results in a motion analysis laboratory was conducted. A total of 110 individuals between the ages of 8 and 65 yrs with traumatic brachial plexus injuries were identified. Patients underwent manual muscle strength testing as assessed on the 5-point British Medical Research Council Scale (5/5, normal; 0/5, absent) and quantitative elbow flexion and extension strength measurements.


A total of 92 subjects had elbow flexion testing. Half of the subjects clinically assessed as having normal (5/5) elbow flexion strength on manual muscle testing exhibited less than 42% of their age-expected strength on quantitative testing. Eighty-four subjects had elbow extension strength testing. Similarly, half of those displaying normal elbow extension strength on manual muscle testing were found to have less than 62% of their age-expected values on quantitative testing. Significant differences between manual muscle testing and quantitative findings were not detected for the lesser (0-4) strength grades.


Manual muscle testing, even when performed by experienced clinicians, may be more misleading than expected for subjects graded as having normal (5/5) strength. Manual muscle testing estimates for the lesser strength grades (1-4/5) seem reasonably accurate.

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