OBJECTIVE: The objectives of this study were to assess the interexaminer agreement of palpation for soft tissue and osseous pain along with visual observations in the lumbar spine. Second, the interexaminer agreement of dermothermograph and surface electromyographic (EMG) scans of the lumbar spine were assessed. Third, to perform these evaluations on symptomatic low back patients. Finally, the most reliable measurements were combined in a multidimensional index of segmental lumbar abnormality, which was assessed for interexaminer agreement.
DESIGN: This is an interexaminer reliability study of commonly used palpatory and instrumentation procedures used to assess lumbar segmental abnormality.
SETTING: This study was conducted at Pain Assessment and Rehabilitation Center (PARC) and the Center for Clinical Studies (CCS) at Northwestern College of Chiropractic.
PATIENTS: The patients involved in this study were symptomatic at the time of examination. The patients were recruited from the CCS clinic and PARC.
RESULTS: Palpation for osseous pain produced kappa coefficients ranging from .48-.90. Palpation for soft tissue pain produced kappa coefficients that ranged from .40-.79 and the kappas for visual observation ranged from .34-.84. The dermothermograph and surface EMG scanner were also assessed with the kappa coefficient for their reliability in assessing lumbar segmental abnormality. The kappa coefficients ranged from -.13 to .59 for the surface EMG and 0- .63 for the dermothermograph measurements. Intraclass correlation coefficients for the surface EMG measurements ranged from .20-.55 and the dermothermograph measurements ranged from .01-.55. Palpation for pain (osseous and soft tissue) and visual observation were included in the multidimensional index of abnormality. The interexaminer agreement of detecting a manipulable lesion was evaluated by designating a lesion present with a positive two out of three tests. Kappa coefficients for the multidimensional index of lumbar abnormality ranged from a low of .05 to a high of .52.
CONCLUSIONS: Palpation for pain (osseous and soft tissue) and visual observation produced good to excellent interexaminer agreement and were included in the multidimensional index of abnormality. The interexaminer agreement of surface EMG scans and dermothermograph measurements were poor and considered to be clinically unacceptable, thus were not included in the multidimensional index. Palpation for pain is the only spinal assessment procedure to show consistent reliability in a number of studies.
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