Clinical Examination Article Archives

Check out all my articles on clinical examination and evaluating injuries.  Explore the archives below or click the button to subscribe and never miss another post.


Return to Play Testing After ACL Reconstruction

This week’s article is a guest post from Lenny Macrina.  Lenny discusses a really important topic right now regarding the safe return to sport after ACL reconstruction.  Are we returning people too fast? If you want to learn exactly how Lenny and I return people after ACL reconstruction be sure to check out our acclaimed online program on the Evaluation and Treatment of the Knee.

 

ACL reconstruction surgery continues to dominate the sports medicine and orthopaedic world. Research surrounding ACL surgery is abundant and I have written about it in previous posts on LennyMacrina.com and for Mike on his website. It’s an important topic because of the lack of general consensus on what’s the best way to assess return to play testing, never mind the relatively high failure rates.

For this post, I wanted to discuss the return to play testing after an ACL reconstruction to see what the literature says. I’m not going to lie, I don’t have a formal algorithm like some. I have people hop, skip and jump but don’t necessarily do a formal hop test.

I believe in slowly returning my athletes to their sport in a time that is safe. I carefully watch them move, advance their strength and power exercises and chat about how they feel about their knee.

With that, I wanted to do an extensive literature search to figure out what was the best way to truly test our athletes to determine their readiness.

Is there a best algorithm that will decrease retear rates? If so, why are we not using it for injury reduction programs…or are we?

 

Risks for ACL Reconstruction Failure

The risk of a second ACL injury in a young, active individual is high after a previous ACL reconstruction and return to sport.

Paterno and his group reported 23.5% of young, active patients suffered a second ACL injury in the first 12 months after RTS following ACLR.

Another study by Paterno and his colleagues showed 37.5% suffered a non-contact retear within 24 months after the initial reconstruction.

Surprisingly enough, this group also reported that 29.5% of young, active athletes who returned to cutting and pivoting sports after an ACL reconstruction suffered a second ACL injury 24 months after return to their sport.

A recent review by Wiggins et al showed that young, active athletes are at greater risk to suffer another ACL injury after ACL reconstruction and return to sport compared with uninjured adolescents.

With retear rates so high, there has to be a better strategy to get our athletes back to their sport safely.

 

ACL and Kinesiophobia

We know the mental component involving fear of movement/reinjury, or kinesiophobia, is often the last to come back for the athlete. A good majority of patients have some form of kinesiophobia after an ACL reconstruction and we need to be able to address that too. Numerous studies have shown this and it definitely needs to be understood and addressed as the program is progressed. Here’s another one for you to check out.

Those are just a couple of articles that discuss the self-reported fear that is involved in an athlete’s head. My pubmed search gave me 36 total articles that you may want to check out here.

There’s no denying the power of the mind when a return to play decision has to be made. I want them feeling as strong and confident as possible. It takes time and the days of trying to return someone back in 4-6 months seems to be a thing of the past. I did it.

Some self-reported outcome measurements that are commonly used are the TSK-11, known as the Tampa Scale for KInesiophobia. This is a shortened version of the original TSK-17 that was published previously.

 

 

Another questionnaire that can be use is the ACL-RSI or the Return to Sport after Injury Scale. It is used to assess psychological impact that may be in the athlete’s head. The goal of the questionnaire is to the athlete’s emotion, confidence and self-risk appraisal.

There are many other tools out there that can gauge a patient’s knee function such as the IKDC, KOOS, VAS scale, Lysholm, Tegner, and the Cincinnati Knee Scoring scale. I just wanted to add those in as an informational thing but they don’t necessarily measure the psychological component ad readiness for return to play.

 

Slow and Steady ACL Rehabilitation

I’ve gotten high school seniors back to their sport quickly and bragged about it. Despite their isokinetic test being marginally ok, the docs would clear them because of other circumstances. It’s the last game of the season or it’s their senior year or they made the playoffs and the team ‘needs them.’

It seems as if the literature supports some form of formal testing but there is no clear answer, in my opinion.

The tests that many currently utilize in the clinic have just never felt right to me. I’m not sure we can simply do some hop tests or a step down test and have enough information to decide on whether an athlete is ready to return to their sport. Both tests are in the sagittal plane and don’t account for fatigue or other planes of movements such as the frontal plane (side to side) or transverse plane (rotational motions.)

Never mind that when we are comparing the involved leg to the uninvolved leg during functional testing to determine limb symmetry index (LSI), are we inherently flawed? Does the strength and proprioception of the uninvolved leg diminish months after the ACL reconstruction which makes our battery of tests invalid by inflating the LSI?

 

Rethinking the Way We Determine Return to Play After ACL Surgery

Delaware researchers seem to think that the LSI can overestimate knee function after an ACL surgery. They have shown that doing baseline functional tests soon after the ACL tear gives a better estimate of the body’s strength and functional output.

So if we’re using the uninvolved leg as the comparison leg and it has undergone strength and proprioceptive changes during the 6-12 months of rehab, are we flawed from the start and our LSI testing is invalid and over-estimates an athlete’s return to play?

Maybe that’s one reason why our retear rates are so high.

 

Physical Therapy Is Not Good at Advanced Stage Rehab

Never mind the pink elephant in the room…  many PT’s are poor at prescribing higher level exercises. We just don’t see people past 8-12 weeks after surgery because of insurance visit limitations. We don’t have experience or the access to these patients once they’re discharged from PT.

It’s at this point that the real strength, power, endurance and agility activities really take shape. Unfortunately, most patients are on their own or working with other professionals. It is key that we maintain our relationships with other fitness professionals so we can influence and guide the later-stage rehab process.

But we often don’t, sadly.

It’s a long process, longer than we think and longer than the patient wants it to be.

 

Should We Delay Return to Sport Longer Than 12 Months?

This article talks about how the rehab is multifactorial and can often take 1-2 years to feel comfortable enough.

Even renowned ACL researcher Tim Hewett, known for his injury reduction programs, has advocated for a 2 year return to sport in one of his latest papers.

Most are not functionally ready to return to their sport even though they are cleared by their surgeon. It seems as if time is the number one decision maker and not necessarily functional tests of strength power and endurance.

This paper showed that at 6 months, 2 patients (3.2%) passed all criteria. At 9 months, seven patients (11.3%) passed all RTS criteria. Patients improved in all RTS criteria over time except for the IKDC score. Twenty-nine patients (46.8%) did not pass the strength criterion at 60°/s at 9 months after ACL reconstruction.

While this research paper looked at younger athletes cleared for sports participation After an ACL Reconstruction.  Only 13.9% of the participants passed all of the criteria (IKDC, quadriceps and hamstring strength limb symmetry index (LSI), and single-leg hop test) 1 year after surgery

This study looked to assess the changes over time in patients tested at 6 months and 9 months after ACL reconstruction.  At 6 months, only 2 patients (3.2%) passed all criteria. At 9 months, 7 patients (11.3%) passed all criteria.

What if they had a previous ACL tear and then they subsequently tear the contralateral side? What does the PT use for an index?

A study by the Zwolski group that the use of LSI’s during strength and performance tests may not be an appropriate means of identifying residual deficits in female patients after bilateral ACL reconstruction. They also concluded that “a better indicator of strength performance in this population may need to include a comparison of strength performance values to the normative values of healthy controls.”

There seems to be a persistent issue with getting the quadriceps muscle to return in our athletes. Despite our efforts, there seems to be a neuromuscular component that requires time and persistence.

This study showed that in patients an average of 7.5 months out of surgery demonstrated nearly a 30% weakness. They said diminished motor neuron recruitment or decreased motor-unit–firing frequency was likely contributing to reduced isometric quadriceps strength and interlimb asymmetries.

Another study looked to compare adolescent athletes ages 15-20 years old with adults ages of 21-30 years old. At the 8-month follow-up, 29% of the patients, in both age groups, who had returned to sport had recovered their muscle function in all 5 tests of muscle function (unilateral vertical hop; unilateral hop for distance; and unilateral side hop, isometric quad at 60° and knee flexion at 30°.) At the 12-month follow-up, the results were 20% for the adolescents and 28% for the adult patients.

Again, a large strength deficit at 12 months post-surgery despite our objective testing.

Never mind that most of these studies lum everyone together and don’t account for graft differences. In my opinion, we need to consider graft type as another variable that could contribute to retear rates and return to sport testing. I talked about graft selection in this blog post.

 

How Do We Determine When Safe to Return to Sports?

That’s the million dollar question. There are a few common ways that we can determine when it is safe to return to sports after ACL reconstruction.

 

Isokinetic Testing

Isokinetic testing has been used for many years and seems to be valid and reliable. Although this recent systematic review in BJSM stated that  isokinetic strength measures have not been validated as useful predictors of successful RTS.

Oh great, now what?

Don’t forget, back in 1994 Kevin Wilk and his group looked to determine if a correlation exists between three commonly performed clinical tests: isokinetic isolated knee concentric muscular testing, the single-leg hop test, and the subjective knee score in anterior cruciate ligament reconstructed knees. They noted a positive correlation was noted between isokinetic knee extension peak torque (180, 300 degrees/sec) and subjective knee scores, and the three hop tests (p < 0.001).

The problem lies with many clinics having limited access or just don’t use them anymore.

Because of that, we’ve had to adjust our thinking and use ground based testing such as hop tests, isometric strength testing and agility tests.

The research says that “athletes who did not meet the discharge criteria before returning to professional sport had a 4x greater risk of sustaining an ACL graft rupture compared with those who met all 6 RTS criteria (isokinetic strength testing at 60°, 180° and 300°/s, a running t-test, single hop, triple hop and triple crossover hop tests.) In addition, hamstring to quadriceps strength ratio deficits were associated with an increased risk of an ACL graft rupture.

This study says that the single hop for distance and ACL-RSI were found to be the strongest predictive parameters, assessing both the objective functional and the subjective psychological aspects of returning to sport. Both tests may help to identify patients at risk of not returning to pre-injury sport.

 

Hand-Held Isometric Strength Testing

This is another test that is commonly used in return to sport testing after an ACL. I think it could be used but it gives limited information and can be painful if not done correctly. The painful response has been shown to statistically influence outcomes and needs to be modified to prevent alterations in true quadriceps force generation.

Also, the measurements using a hand held dynamometer are often lower than what can be obtained with an isokinetic device, as seen in this study.

I know many use hand-held dynamometry but I just can’t see its value as a return to sport test that is valid.

There are just too many questions about where to put the device to minimize pain while kicking. Also, at what angle do we place the knee to best isolate the quadriceps? Ninety degrees or 60 degrees of flexion? Research seems to look at both methods.

Plus, does a concentric, isometric contraction REALLY give us the information that we truly need to make an informed decision or have we sought a cheaper alternative to isokinetics and embraced it. We PT’s are suckers for the easiest way to diagnose, treat and test and often miss the big picture.

Research can guide us but common sense and experience must play some role as well.

 

Hop Tests to Determine Return to Play

Hope tests are often utilized by rehabilitation specialists to determine an athlete’s ability to generate and dissipate a force when compared to their contralateral knee. As far as I can see, Noyes was one of the 1st to talk about hop tests in the literature in 1991.

Four common tests are utilized and reported in the literature. They include single leg hop for distance, triple hop for distance, crossover hop for distance and 6-meter time hop. The general rule is to obtain an LSI ≥ 90% compared to the reference limb.

 

As usual, both limbs are tested and the uninvolved limb is used as the reference, which we mentioned previously as an inherent potential flaw (the Delaware study.)

Using these tests can help the rehab specialist reduce ACL re-tears as noted in this study from BJSM in 2016. They showed reinjury rates were “significantly reduced by 51% for each month RTS was delayed until 9 months after surgery, after which no further risk reduction was observed.”

Furthermore, 38.2% of those who failed RTS criteria involving hop tests and quad strength symmetry within 10% suffered re-injuries versus 5.6% of those who passed all of the testing criteria.

 

Closing Thoughts on ACL Return to Sport Testing

My research has confounded my thoughts even more and added to the questions. It seems as if there is no clear way to determine readiness to return to sport after an ACL. Our testing seems somewhat flawed and despite our efforts, ACL retear rates are too high.

To simply say it comes down to strength is not enough. We’re so focused on quadriceps strength that we’re missing the big picture. Of course the quadriceps are highly important, bt don’t forget about hamstring:quadriceps ratios, gluteus strength, force attenuation, and fatigue-state rehab.

Never mind there’s the mental component and the ability to attenuate forces in game situations. These are things we cannot truly test.

We’re missing something but it does seem that the time-based scenario may be an option to consider, meaning they need to stay out of their sport for at least 9 months, and ideally 12-24 months, or as long as they are continually doing their progressive strength training.

I think therein lies the answer. As physical therapists, we don’t do a very good job at advanced strength training and periodization. We can learn a lot from our fellow strength coaches. Plus the fact that the athlete is all too eager to return to their sport without fully understanding the consequences.

Despite all of our testing, we continue to show poor outcomes even 12+ months after reconstruction. I can’t blame the tests, right? It’s the preparation for the tests that seems to be lacking.

What do you do to test your athletes when they’re considering a return to their sport?

 

Learn How We Evaluate and Treat the Knee

For those interested in learning more about how Lenny and I evaluate and treat the knee, we have an amazingly comprehensive course that covers everything you need to know to master the knee.  Our detailed examination process, all our treatment progressions, and detailed information on nonoperative and postoperative treatment of ACL, patellofemoral, meniscus, articular cartilage, osteoarthritis injuries, and so much more.

 

 

 

Special Tests for Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common injuries we see in orthopedic physical therapy.

During the clinical examination of the shoulder, we want to perform special tests designed to detect a rotator cuff tear.

Below are my 4 favorite special tests for rotator cuff tears that I perform during my clinical examination of the shoulder.  These 4 tests do a good job detecting larger tears that are causing dysfunction.  If you’re looking for more subtle rotator cuff injuries, I have another article on my shoulder impingement evaluation.

As rotator cuff tears become more common, we are starting to see them in younger and more active patients.  In these patients, they often have smaller tears and it is much more difficult to detect with our special tests.  These types of patients often present with pain and weakness, and not as much dysfunction as you would see in a traditional older patient with a more degenerative tear.

This is likely because their rotator cuff tear is either small or partial.  These are often just isolated to the supraspinatus muscles as well, and their other rotator cuff muscles are functioning well.

As a rotator cuff tear becomes larger, retracted, and more degenerative in nature, the patient’s shoulder dysfunction will become more apparent as it becomes difficult for the rotator cuff as a group to function well.

Shoulder Shrug Sign

The first special test I perform to diagnose a rotator cuff tear is the shoulder shrug sign.

During this test, the key to check if they can actively elevate their arm if you help them past their shrug arc.  When the shoulder is positioned below 90 degrees, the line of pull and the force vector of the deltoid muscles is superior.  This is often counterbalanced by the line of pull and force vector of the rotator cuff.

In the image below, the left is the line of pull of the deltoid at various shoulder positions.  The picture on the right is the supraspinatus. Notice how the deltoid starts to have a similar line of pull as the rotator cuff once the shoulder reaches 90-120 degrees of elevation:

If the rotator cuff is torn, then the deltoid is the dominant muscle and the resultant force vector is more superior.

This is the shrug.

However, one you get the arm overhead, the deltoid is now more in line with the rotator cuff and can help center the humeral head within the glenoid fossa.

So, you want to passively help them get above this position to see if they can elevate towards the upper range of elevation.

There isn’t really any information in the literature regarding this test.  It’s not something you’d probably find as a specific test for a rotator cuff tear, but something I have clinically found to be relevant to me.

Shoulder Drop Arm Test

The next rotator cuff tear special test that I perform is the drop arm test.  The concept of this test is pretty similar to the shrug sign. You passively elevate the arm and see if they can hold that position without the arm dropping, or shrugging.

If the arm drops or shrugs, then the rotator cuff likely isn’t able to counterbalance the superior line of pull of the deltoid.

The research has shown that the sensitivity of the drop arm test is low to moderate, but specificity is high from 80-100%.  This is consistent with most of your clinical examination of the shoulder. You usually have to have a significant tear to start seeing these tests positive.

Rotator Cuff Lag Sign

The rotator cuff lag signs are similar special tests as the drop arm test.  Essentially, they are like a drop arm for external rotation of the shoulder instead of elevation.

As rotator cuff tears get larger, they tend to extend from the supraspinatus into the infraspinatus.  The lag signs show a difficulty in the external rotators holding the arm against gravity.

The test appears to be specific in the literature with specificity between 88-100% and several studies in the 90% range.  Sensitivity has varied in studies, but has shown 45-56% sensitivity to detect full thickness supraspinatus tears, 70% in infraspinatus tears, and 100% in teres minor tears.  This makes sense to me as it’s a better test for larger tears extending into the infraspinatus and teres minor.

Lag Sign at 90 Degrees

I also like to perform a variation of the lag sign at 90 degrees of elevation.  It is the same test as the traditional lag sign, however, I have found this test to be even more challenging.  I have seen patients that had a positive lag sign at 90 degrees of elevation, and a negative lag sign at 20-30 degrees.  It’s simply a more challenging position for the cuff.

The research has shown this to have specificity between 70-100%, however varying sensitivity from 20-100%.  But again, for the same reasons as the lag sign above.

Special Tests for Rotator Cuff Tears

If you use all four of the above special tests as a cluster, I think you’ll often be able to detect a large full thickness rotator cuff tear during your clinical examination.  These tests tend to be more sensitive to larger tears in older and more degenerative patients.

But remember, special tests are just a piece of the puzzle.

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

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The online program takes you through everything you need to become a shoulder expert. You can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. In addition to shoulder impingement, you’ll learn about:

  • The evaluation of the shoulder
  • Selecting exercises for the shoulder
  • Manual resistance and dynamic stabilization drills for the shoulder
  • Nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder instability
  • SLAP lesions
  • The stiff shoulder
  • Manual therapy for the shoulder

The program offers CEU hours for physical therapists and athletic trainers. Click below to learn more:

How to Diagnose and Treat Hamstring Strains

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Diagnose and Treat Hamstring Strains is now available.


How to Diagnose and Treat Hamstring Strains

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Diagnose and Treat Hamstring Strains. In this presentation, I’m going to overview a simple 3 phase approach to rehabilitating hamstring strains. Hamstring strains can be tough, and have a really high recurrence rate. But luckily there are things you can do to assure we are helping the tissue remodel and accept load again.

This webinar will cover:

  • The anatomy and injury mechanics behind hamstring strains
  • The best way to diagnose and grade hamstring strains
  • A 3 phase rehabilitation progression to get back on the field
  • What to focus on to reduce recurrent strains in the future
  • The postoperative rehabilitation following hamstrings repair

To access this webinar:

Clinical Examination of Superior Labral Tears – What is the Best Special Test for a SLAP Tear?

**Updated in 2017**

What is the best test for a SLAP tear?  That is a pretty common question that I hear at meetings.

Clinical examination to detect SLAP lesions is often difficult because of the common presence of concomitant pathology in patients presenting with this type of condition. Andrews has shown that 45% of patients (and 73% of baseball pitchers) with superior labral lesions have concomitant partial thickness tears of the supraspinatus portion of the rotator cuff.  Mileski and Snyder reported that 29% of their patients with SLAP lesions exhibited partial thickness rotator cuff tears, 11% complete rotator cuff tears, and 22% Bankart lesions of the anterior glenoid.

The clinician should keep in mind that while labral pathologies frequently present as repetitive overuse conditions, such as those commonly seen in overhead athletics, the patient may also describe a single traumatic event such as a fall onto the outstretched arm or an episode of sudden traction, or a blow to the shoulder.  This is an extremely important differentiation you need to make when selecting which tests you should perform.

A wide variety of potentially useful special test maneuvers have been described to help determine the presence of labral pathology.  Lets review some of them now.

This article is part of a 4-part series on SLAP Lesions

Special Tests for a SLAP Tear

There are literally dozens of special tests for SLAP tears of the shoulder.  I am going to share some of the most popular SLAP tests.

 

Active Compression Test

active compression SLAP testThe active compression test is used to evaluate labral lesions and acromioclavicular joint injuries. This could be the most commonly performed test, especially in orthopedic surgeons.  I am not sure why, though, I do not think it is the best.

The shoulder is placed into approximately 90 degrees of elevation and 30 degrees of horizontal adduction across the midline of the body. Resistance is applied, using an isometric hold, in this position with both full shoulder internal and external rotation (altering humeral rotation
against the glenoid in the process). A positive test for labral involvement is when pain is elicited when testing with the shoulder in internal rotation and forearm in pronation (thumb pointing toward the floor). Symptoms are typically decreased when tested in the externally rotated position or the pain is localized at the acromioclavicular (AC) joint.

O’Brien et al found this maneuver to be 100% sensitive and 95% specific as it relates to assessing the presence of labral pathology.  These results are outstanding, maybe too outstanding. Pain provocation using this test is common, challenging the validity of the results. In my experience, the presence of deep and diffuse glenohumeral joint pain is most indicative of the presence of a SLAP lesion. Pain localized in the AC joint or in the posterior rotator cuff is not specific for the presence of a SLAP lesion. The posterior shoulder symptoms are indicative of provocative strain on the rotator cuff musculature when the shoulder is placed in this position.

The challenging part of this test is that many patients will be symptomatic from overloading their rotator cuff in this disadvantageous position.

  • Sensitivity: 47-100%, Specificity: 31-99%, PPV: 10-94%, NPV: 45-100% (a lot of variability between various authors)

 

Biceps Load Test

The biceps load testBiceps Load SLAP Test involves placing the shoulder in 90 degrees of abduction and maximally externally rotated. At maximal external rotation and with the forearm in a supinated position, the patient is instructed to perform a biceps contraction
against resistance. Deep pain within the shoulder during this contraction is indicative of a SLAP lesion.
The original authors further refined this test with the description of the biceps load II maneuver. The examination technique is similar, although the shoulder is placed into a position of 120 degrees of abduction rather than the originally described 90 degrees.  The biceps load II test was noted to have greater sensitivity than the original test.  I like both of these tests and usually perform them both.
  • Sensitivity: 91%, Specificity: 97%, PPV: 83%, NPV: 98% for Biceps Load I; Sensitivity: 90%, Specificity: 97%, PPV: 92%, NPV: 96% for Biceps Load II

 

Compression Rotation Test

Compression Rotation SLAP TestThe compression-rotation test is performed with the patient in the supine position. The glenohumeral joint is manually compressed through the long axis of the humerus while, the humerus is passively rotated back and forth in an attempt to trap the labrum within the joint. This is typically performed in a variety of small and large circles while providing joint compression when performing this maneuver, in an attempt to grind the labrum between the glenoid and the humeral head. Furthermore, the examiner may attempt to detect anterosuperior labral lesions by placing the arm in a horizontally abducted position while providing an anterosuperior directed force. In contrast, the examiner may also horizontally adduct the humerus and provide a posterosuperiorly directed force when performing this test.  I think of this test as “exploring” the joint for a torn labrum.  It is hit or miss for me.

  • Sensitivity: 24%, Specificity: 76%, PPV: 90%, NPV: 9%

 

Dynamic Speed’s Test

dynamic speeds SLAP testThe Speed’s biceps tension test has been found to accurately reproduce pain in instances of SLAP lesions.  I have personally not seen this to be true very often.

It is performed by resisting downwardly applied pressure to the arm when the shoulder is positioned in 90 degrees of forward elevation with the elbow extended and forearm supinated. Clinically, we also perform a new test for SLAP lesions.

Kevin Wilk and I developed a variation of the original Speed’s test, which we refer to as the “Dynamic Speed’s Test.”  (I came up with the name, what do you think?)  During this maneuver, the examiner provides resistance against both shoulder elevation and elbow flexion simultaneously as the patient  elevates the arm overhead. Deep pain within the shoulder is typically produced with shoulder elevation above 90 degrees if this test is positive for labral pathology.

Anecdotally, we have found this maneuver to be more sensitive than the originally described static Speed’s test in detecting SLAP lesions, particularly in the overhead athlete.  To me, it seems like you only get symptoms with greater degrees of elevation, making the original Speed’s Test less sensitive in my hands.

  • Sensitivity: 90%, Specificity: 14%, PPV: 23%, NPV: 83% for the Speed’s test

 

Clunk and Crank Tests

clunk crank slap testThe clunk test is performed with the patient supine. The examiner places one hand on the posterior aspect of the glenohumeral joint while the other grasps the bicondylar aspect of the humerus at the elbow. The examiner’s proximal hand provides an anterior translation of the humeral head while simultaneously rotating the humerus externally with the hand holding the elbow.  The mechanism of this test is similar to that of a McMurray’s test of the knee menisci, where the examiner is attempting to trap the torn labrum between the glenoid and the humeral head. A positive test is produced by the presence of a clunk or grinding sound and is indicative of a labral tear.

The crank test can be performed with the patient either sitting or supine. The shoulder is elevated to 160 degrees in the plane of the scapula. An axial load is then applied by the examiner while the humerus is internally and externally rotated in this position. A positive test typically elicits pain with external rotation. Symptomatic clicking or grinding may also be present during this maneuver.  These tests seem to do well with finding a bucket-handle tear of from a Type III or Type IV SLAP lesion more than anything else for me.

  • Sensitivity: 39-91%, Specificity: 56-93%, PPV: 41-94%, NPV: 29-90%

 

 

2 New(er) Special Tests for SLAP Lesions

In addition to the classic SLAP tests that have been described, there are two additional tests that gained popularity more recently.

I wanted share a video that I have on YouTube that demonstrates these two tests. These were actually published in a paper I wrote in JOSPT a few years ago, but I have modified them a little and wanted to share. These two tests are both excellent at detecting peel-back SLAP lesions, specifically in overhead throwing athletes, but are useful for any population. I share these two tests because I know that there is a lot of confusion regarding the “best” test. These may not be them, but in my hands, both have been extremely helpful and, more importantly, accurate.

Pronated Load SLAP Test

The first test is the “Pronated Load Test,” it is performed in the supine position with the shoulder abducted to 90° and externally rotated. However, the forearm is in a fully pronated position to increase tension on the biceps and subsequently the labral attachment. When maximal external rotation is achieved, the patient is instructed to perform a resisted isometric contraction of the biceps to simulate the peel-back mechanism. This test combines the active bicipital contraction of the biceps load test with the passive external rotation in the pronated position, which elongates the biceps. A positive test is indicated by discomfort within the shoulder.

 

Resisted Supination External Rotation SLAP Test

The second test was described by Myers in AJSM, called the “Resisted Supination External Rotation Test.” Dr. Myers was a fellow at ASMI and a good friend of mine, he really wanted to call this the SUPER test (for SUPination ER) but I was one of many that advised him against this for obvious reasons!

During this test, the patient is positioned in 90° of shoulder abduction, and 65-70° of elbow flexion and the forearm in neutral position. The examiner resists against a maximal supination effort while passively externally rotating the shoulder. Myers noted that this test simulates the peel-back mechanism of SLAP injuries by placing maximal tension on the long head of the biceps by supinating.

Myers’ study of 40 patients revealed that this test had better sensitivity (82.8%), specificity (81.8%), positive predictive value (PPV) (92.3%), negative predictive value (NPV) (64.3%), and diagnostic accuracy (82.5%) compared to the crank test and extremely popular O’Brien’s or active compression test. A positive test is indicated by discomfort within the shoulder.

 

When Do You Perform These Tests?

Now that you know a bunch of special tests for SLAP tears, the real key is understanding “when” to pick each test.  In my mind, they all are slightly different and may even be better at detecting different types of SLAP lesions.  I have an Inner Circle webinar that discusses this and shows you my clinical algorithm on how and why I perform special tests to diagnose a SLAP tear:

 

 

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

shoulder seminarIf you want to learn even more about the shoulder, my online course at ShoulderSeminar.com will teach you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder.  It is packed with tons of educational content that will help you master the shoulder, including detailed information on the clinical examination and treatment of SLAP tears.

 

 

 

Special Tests to Diagnose SLAP Tears

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on Special Tests to Diagnose SLAP Tears is now available.

 

 

Special Tests to Diagnose SLAP Tears

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is on Special Tests to Diagnose SLAP Tears.  In this presentation, I review the many, many different SLAP special tests that exist and explain when and why you would choose certain ones for different people.

This webinar will cover:

  • Why there are so many different SLAP special tests
  • The common mechanisms of injury for SLAP tears
  • Why a good subjective history should lead your clinical examination
  • How to choose specific special tests for specific people
  • How to perform my most commonly used SLAP tests

To access this webinar:

 

 

How do SLAP Tears Occur: Mechanisms of Injury to the Superior Labrum

**Updated in 2017**

How does a SLAP Tear of the shoulder occur?

That’s a common question I here often.  Now that we have discussed the different types and classification of SLAP tears to the superior labrum, I wanted to now talk about how these shoulder injuries occur. There are several injury mechanisms that are speculated to be responsible for creating a SLAP lesion. These mechanisms range from single traumatic events to repetitive microtraumatic injuries.

This article is part of a 4-part series on SLAP Lesions

 

Traumatic SLAP Injuries

mechanism of slap tearTraumatic events, such as falling on an outstretched arm or bracing oneself during a motor vehicle accident, may result in a SLAP lesion due to compression of the superior joint surfaces superimposed with subluxation of the humeral head. Snyder referred to this as a pinching mechanism of injury. Other traumatic injury mechanisms include direct blows, falling onto the point of the shoulder, and forceful traction injuries of the upper extremity.

To be honest with you, I don’t know if this is actually the underlying cause of the SLAP lesion. I have questioned this theory in the past and don’t know the answer, but part of me at least wonders if these patients already had a certain degree of pathology to their superior labrum and the acute injury led to a MRI and diagnosis of a SLAP tear.

Essentially the MRI may have found an old SLAP tear.

 

Repetitive Overhead Activities

Repetitive overhead activity, such as throwing a baseball and other overhead sports, is another common mechanism of injury frequently responsible for producing SLAP injuries.

This is the type of SLAP lesion that we most often see in our athletes. In 1985, Dr. Andrews first hypothesized that SLAP pathology in overhead throwing athletes was the result of the high eccentric activity of the biceps brachii during the arm deceleration and follow-through phases of the overhead throw. To determine this, they applied electrical stimulation to the biceps during arthroscopic evaluation and noted that the biceps contraction raised the labrum off of the glenoid rim.

Peel Back SLAP Tear

Burkhart and Morgan have since hypothesized a “peel back” mechanism that produces SLAP lesion in the overhead athlete. They suggest that when the shoulder is placed in a position of abduction and maximal external rotation, the rotation produces a twist at the base of the biceps, transmitting torsional force to the anchor.

This mechanism has received a lot of attention and several studies seem to show its accuracy.

Pradham measured superior labral strain in a cadaveric model during each phase of the throwing motion. They noted that increased superior labral strain occurred during the late-cocking phase of throwing.

Another study from ASMI simulated each of these mechanisms using cadaveric models. Nine pairs of cadaveric shoulders were loaded to biceps anchor complex failure in either a position of simulated in-line loading (similar to the deceleration phase of throwing) or simulated peel back mechanism (similar to the cocking phase of overhead throwing). Results showed that 7 of 8 of the in-line loading group failed in the midsubstance of the biceps tendon with 1 of 8 fracturing at the supraglenoid tubercle. However, all 8 of the simulated peel back group failures resulted in a type II SLAP lesion. The ultimate strength of the biceps anchor was significantly different when the 2 loading techniques were compared. The biceps anchor demonstrated significantly higher ultimate strength with the in-line loading (508 N) as opposed to the ultimate strength seen during the peel back loading mechanism (202 N).

You can see photos of the study below.  The first photo is a normal glenoid with the labrum and attaching long head of the biceps.  The second photo is the simulation of the traction and eccentric biceps contraction.  The final photo is simulation of the peel-back lesion.

In theory, SLAP lesions most likely occur in overhead athletes from a combination of these 2 previously described forces. The eccentric biceps activity during deceleration may serve to weaken the biceps-labrum complex, while the torsional peel back force may result in the posterosuperior detachment of the labral anchor.

 

 

shoulder seminarLearn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

If you want to learn even more about the shoulder, my online course at ShoulderSeminar.com will teach you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder.  It is packed with tons of educational content that will help you master the shoulder, including detailed information on the clinical examination and treatment of SLAP tears.

 

 

 

What Exactly Is a SLAP Tear? Top 5 Things You Need to Know About a Superior Labral Lesion

Superior Labral SLAP Tear**Updated in 2017**

A very common diagnosis for shoulder injuries is a superior labral tear, or SLAP tear.  SLAP stands for Superior Labral tear Anterior to Posterior.  There many different variations of SLAP tears, which have different levels of severity and treatment strategies.  Back in the day, surgeons would want to operate on all SLAP tears but we learned that some do well without surgery.  In fact, some SLAP tears aren’t even worrisome .

Understanding how a SLAP lesion occurs and what exactly is happening pathologically is extremely important to diagnose and treat these shoulder injuries appropriately.

This article is part of a 4-part series on SLAP Lesions

 

Classification of SLAP Lesions

As you can see in the figure, the long head of the biceps tendon inserts directly into the superior labrum.  There are several variations of injuries that can occur to the superior labrum where the biceps anchor attaches.

Following a retrospective review of 700 shoulder arthroscopies, Snyder et al: Arthroscopy 1990, identified 4 types of superior labrum lesions involving the biceps anchor. Collectively they termed these SLAP lesions, in reference to their anatomic location: Superior Labrum extending from Anterior to Posterior. This was the original definition but as we continue to learn more about SLAP tears, they certainly do not always extend from anterior to posterior. But, the most important concept to know is that a SLAP lesion is an injury to the superior labrum near the attachment of the biceps anchor.

SLAP Tear Classification

Type I SLAP Lesions

Type I SLAP lesions were described as being indicative of isolated fraying of the superior labrum with a firm attachment of the labrum to the glenoid. These lesions are typically degenerative in nature. At this time, it is currently believed that the majority of the active population may have a Type I SLAP lesion and this is often not even considered pathological by many surgeons.

 

Type II SLAP Lesions

Type II SLAP lesions are characterized by a detachment of the superior labrum and the origin of the tendon of the long head of the biceps brachii from the glenoid resulting in instability of the biceps-labral anchor. These is the most common type of SLAP tear. When we receive a script from a surgeon to treat a “SLAP repair” he or she is more than likely talking about a Type II SLAP and surgery to re-attach the labrum and biceps anchor.

Three distinct sub-categories of type II SLAP lesions have been further identified by Morgan et al: Arthroscopy ’90. They reported that in a series of 102 patients undergoing arthroscopic evaluation 37% presented with an anterosuperior lesion, 31% with a posterosuperior lesion, and 31% exhibited a combined anterior and superior lesion.

These findings are consistent with my clinical observations of patients. Different types of patients and mechanisms of injuries will result in slightly different Type II lesions. For example, the majority of overhead athletes present with posterosuperior lesions while individuals who have traumatic SLAP lesions typically present with anterosuperior lesions. These variations are important when selecting which special tests to perform based on the patient’s history and mechanism of injury.

 

Type III SLAP Lesions

Type III SLAP lesions are characterized by a bucket-handle tear of the labrum with an intact biceps insertion. The labrum tears and flips into the joint similar to a meniscus. The important concept here is that the biceps anchor is attached, unlike a Type II.

 

Type IV SLAP Lesions

Type IV SLAP lesions have a bucket-handle tear of the labrum that extends into the biceps tendon. In this lesion, instability of the biceps-labrum anchor is also present, similar to that seen in the type II SLAP lesion. This is basically a combination of a Type II and III lesion.

What is complicated about this classification system is the fact that the Type I-IV scale is not progressively more severe. For example a Type III SLAP lesion is not bigger, or more severe, or indicative to more pathology than a Type II SLAP lesion.
To further complicate things, Maffet et al: AJSM ’95 noted that 38% of the SLAP lesions identified in their retrospective review of 712 arthroscopies were not classifiable using the I-IV terminology previously defined by Snyder. They suggested expanding the classification scale for SLAP lesions to a total of 7 categories, adding descriptions for types V-VII.
  • Type V SLAP lesions are characterized by the presence of a Bankart lesion of the anterior capsule that extends into the anterior superior labrum.
  • Type VI SLAP lesion involve a disruption of the biceps tendon anchor with an anterior or posterior superior labral flap tear.
  • Type VII SLAP lesions are described as the extension of a SLAP lesion anteriorly to involve the area inferior to the middle glenohumeral ligament.

These 3 types typically involve a concomitant pathology in conjunction with a SLAP lesion. Although they provided further classification, this terminology has not caught on and is not frequently used. For example, most people will refer to a Type V SLAP as a Type II SLAP with a concomitant Bankart lesion.

Since then there have been even more classification types described in the literature, up to at least 10 that I know of, but don’t worry, nobody really uses them.

 

Top 5 things you need to know about classifying SLAP lesions

Here’s all you need to know about classifying SLAP tears:

  1. Just worry about Type I-IV SLAP lesions and realize that any classification system above Type IV just means that there was a concomitant injury in addition to the SLAP tear.
  2. You can break down and group Type I and Type III lesions together. Both involved degeneration of the labrum but the biceps anchor is attached. Thus, these are not unstable SLAP lesions and are not surgically repaired. This makes surgery (just a simple debridement) and physical therapy easier.
  3. You can also break down and group Type II and Type IV lesions together. Both involve a detached biceps anchor and require surgery to stabilize the biceps anchor. Type IV SLAP tears are much more uncommon and will involve the repair and a debridement of the bucket handle tear.
  4. Type II lesions are by far the most common that you will see in the clinic and are almost always what a surgeon is referring to when speaking of a “SLAP repair.”  That being said, we are seeing trends towards NOT repairing SLAP II lesions, as they may be more common than once expected.  This is especially true in overhead athletes.
  5. We all may have a Type I lesion, it is basically just fraying and degeneration of the labrum.

 

 

shoulder seminarLearn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

If you want to learn even more about the shoulder, my online course at ShoulderSeminar.com will teach you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder.  It is packed with tons of educational content that will help you master the shoulder, including detailed information on the clinical examination and treatment of SLAP tears.

 

 

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

how pelvic tilt influences hamstring and spine mobilityHow many people come to you and complain that they have tight hamstrings?  It seems like an epidemic sometimes, right?  I know it’s pretty common for me, at least.  

Many people just tug away at their hamstrings and aggressively stretch, which may not only be barking up the wrong tree, but also disadvantageous.

I have really gotten away from blindly stretching the hamstrings without a proper assessment, as I feel that pelvic position is often the reason why people think they are tight.  This is pretty easy to miss.

In the video below, I want to explain and help you visualize the how pelvic tilt influences hamstring mobility and spine position.  Often times the hamstrings feel “tight” or “short” when in reality their pelvic position is just giving us this illusion.  I talk about this a lot with clients at Champion and often find myself making these drawings on our whiteboard.

Keep this in mind next time you think someone has tight hamstrings or has too much thoracic kyphosis.  Often times the key is in the hips!

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

 

Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

If you are interested in learning more, I have a couple of great webinars for my Inner Circle members that you may find helpful: