Returning to the bedside: using the history and physical examination to identify rotator cuff tears

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2000 Dec;48(12):1633-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2000.tb03875.x.


Objectives: To determine the value of elements of the bedside history and physical examination in predicting arthrography results in older patients with suspected rotator cuff tear (RCT).

Design: Retrospective chart review

Setting: Orthopedic practice limited to disorders of the shoulder

Participants: 448 consecutive patients with suspected RCT referred for arthrography over a 4-year period

Main outcome measure: Presence of partial or complete RCT on arthrogram

Results: 301 patients (67.2%) had evidence of complete or partial RCT. Clinical findings in the univariate analysis most closely associated with rotator cuff tear included infra- and supraspinatus atrophy (P < .001), weakness with either elevation (P < .001) or external rotation (P < .001), arc of pain (P = .004), and impingement sign (P = .01). Stepwise logistic regression based on a derivation dataset (n = 191) showed that weakness with external rotation (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) 6.96 (3.09, 13.03)), age > or = 65 (AOR 4.05(2.47, 16.07)), and night pain (AOR 2.61 (1.004, 7.39)) best predicted the presence of RCT. A five-point scoring system developed from this model was applied in the remaining patient sample (n = 216) to test validity. No significant differences in performance were noted using ROC curve comparison. Using likelihood ratios, a clinical score = 4 was superior in predicting RCT to the diagnostic prediction of an expert clinician. This score had specificity equivalent to magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasonography in diagnosis of RCT.

Conclusions: The presence of three simple features in the history and physical examination of the shoulder can identify RCT efficiently. This approach offers a valuable strategy to diagnosis at the bedside without compromising sensitivity or specificity.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arthrography / standards
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Logistic Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Medical History Taking / standards*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Orthopedics / methods
  • Patients' Rooms*
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Physical Examination / standards*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rotation
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Ultrasonography / standards
  • Wounds and Injuries / classification
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / physiopathology