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Spinal Motion Palpation: A Review of Reliability Studies

Peter A. Huijbregts, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT

Abstract: Spinal motion palpation is a diagnostic tool used by a number of professions. Research studies available on the reliability of motion palpation studies have statistical and methodological flaws affecting their statistical conclusion validity, external validity, and construct validity. Further research is necessary to determine the reliability of motion palpation techniques bearing in mind these statistical and methodological flaws.

Key Words: Spinal Motion Palpation, Reliability, Research Validity

Spinal motion palpation is a diagnostic tool used by physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and medical doctors1. Table 1 lists the different types of spinal motion palpation1,2. Four assumptions form the rationale for the use of motion palpation as a diagnostic tool3-5:

  1. Spinal segmental motion abnormalities cause or contribute to functional limitation and disability.
  2. Motion palpation is a reliable indicator of these motion abnormalities.
  3. Motion palpation is a valid indicator of these abnormalities.
  4. Motion palpation is sensitive to clinically important changes in these motion abnormalities.

The goal of this article is to provide the clinician with a critical analysis of the research into the intra- and interrater reliability of spinal motion palpation. Intrarater reliability refers to the stability of measurements taken by one rater across two or more trials; interrater reliability is concerned with the level of agreement between findings of two or more raters measuring the same group of subjects6.

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Dynamic is the smartest choice for your physical therapy care.

At Dynamic Physical Therapy, our physical therapists are the most experienced and educated in physical therapy treatments. We have six locations throughout Northern Michigan in Cadillac, Manistee, Gaylord, Marion, Buckley and Traverse City. We are the most recommended Northern Michigan physical therapy center for back pain. We also specialize in neck pain, knee pain, arm pain and hand pain, and our physical therapists and aides can help relieve your pain in the most effective way possible. For orthopedic treatment and aquatic therapy, rehab for sports related injuries like shoulder injuries and foot injuries, physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy, stroke rehabilitation, therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and arthritis relief, and even jaw pain treatment, Dynamic Physical Therapy is the smartest choice for comprehensive physical therapy care and physical rehabiliation services.