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Chiropractic Research Review

Motion Palpation Findings and LBP Status

Motion palpation is perhaps the most regularly used diagnostic method of chiropractors, despite having little research to support its validity. Studies of this method have examined student volunteers and have not reliably determined the sensitivity and specificity of motion palpation.

Chiropractic diagnostic tests should be substantiated if they are primary or sole methods of assessing patients.

To evaluate motion palpation for positively identifying cases of low back pain (LBP) and spinal fixations, 184 twins ages 19 to 42 were examined by one of seven chiropractic students, who were unaware of the back-pain status of the subjects. All subjects completed a questionnaire on current LBP. In this study, motion palpation was defined as "palpation of a motion segment by either active or passive movement and... a subjective evaluation of the range of motion and the end-feel of the motion segments."

Results: There was no significant association between fixation findings and back-pain status or between fixations and examiner interpretation of pain responses to motion palpation limits. Fixations were observed in 43% of the subjects; presumed painful reactions were seen in 25% of subjects (based on outward expression of pain). Sensitivity was low (less than 60%)
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compared to a higher specificity, especially in the mid-lumbar region.

Conclusion: Motion palpation may not be a good method for determining past or present LBP in patients, according to the authors. In addition, fixation findings and pain reactions to motion palpation may not be linked. The authors encourage proponents of motion palpation to publish additional, more extensive studies.

Leboeuf-Yde C, van Dijk J, Franz C, et al. Motion palpation findings and self-reported low back pain in a population-based study sample. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2002:25(2), pp. 80-87.

Chiropractic Research Review

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