Background: Upright examination procedures like radiology, thermography, manual muscle testing, and spinal motion palpation may lead to spinal interventions with the patient prone. The reliability and accuracy of mapping upright examination findings to the prone position is unknown. This study had 2 primary goals: (1) investigate how erroneous spine-scapular landmark associations may lead to errors in treating and charting spine levels; and (2) study the interexaminer reliability of a novel method for mapping upright spinal sites to the prone position.
Methods: Experiment 1 was a thought experiment exploring the consequences of depending on the erroneous landmark association of the inferior scapular tip with the T7 spinous process upright and T6 spinous process prone (relatively recent studies suggest these levels are T8 and T9, respectively). This allowed deduction of targeting and charting errors. In experiment 2, 10 examiners (2 experienced, 8 novice) used an index finger to maintain contact with a mid-thoracic spinous process as each of 2 participants slowly moved from the upright to the prone position. Interexaminer reliability was assessed by computing Intraclass Correlation Coefficient, standard error of the mean, root mean squared error, and the absolute value of the mean difference for each examiner from the 10 examiner mean for each of the 2 participants.
Results: The thought experiment suggesting that using the (inaccurate) scapular tip landmark rule would result in a 3 level targeting and charting error when radiological findings are mapped to the prone position. Physical upright exam procedures like motion palpation would result in a 2 level targeting error for intervention, and a 3 level error for charting. The reliability experiment showed examiners accurately maintained contact with the same thoracic spinous process as the participant went from upright to prone, ICC (2,1) = 0.83.
Conclusions: As manual therapists, the authors have emphasized how targeting errors may impact upon manual care of the spine. Practitioners in other fields that need to accurately locate spinal levels, such as acupuncture and anesthesiology, would also be expected to draw important conclusions from these findings.
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