The Spurling test and cervical radiculopathy

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2002 Jan 15;27(2):156-9. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200201150-00007.

Abstract

Study design: A cross-sectional study design was used.

Objective: To determine the sensitivity and specificity of the Spurling test for cervical radiculopathy.

Summary of background data: The Spurling test is an accepted physical examination test, but there is little data on its sensitivity or specificity.

Methods: From 1988 to 1993, 255 consecutive patients were referred for electrodiagnosis of upper extremity nerve disorders. A Spurling test administered before other testing was performed. The Spurling test was scored as positive if it caused pain or tingling that started in the shoulder and radiated distally to the elbow. After the electrodiagnostic examination, a score was given to each diagnosis in the differential diagnosis according to the likelihood of its presence. To determine the odds ratio, sensitivity, and specificity, chi2 analysis was used. Also, the percentage of subjects with positive results from the Spurling test was calculated for several nerve disease diagnoses.

Results: The Spurling test had a sensitivity of 6/20 (30%) and a specificity of 160/172 (93%). The results were positive in 16.6% of the normal group, in 3.4% of the group with nerve disorders other than a radiculopathy, in 25% of the group with an abnormality not consistent with any specific diagnosis group, in 37.5% of the group with possible radiculopathy, and in 40% of the group with certain radiculopathy.

Conclusions: The Spurling test is not very sensitive, but it is specific for cervical radiculopathy diagnosed by electromyography. Therefore, it is not useful as a screening test, but it is clinically useful in helping to confirm a cervical radiculopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arm / innervation
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / methods*
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / standards
  • Electrodiagnosis / methods
  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / diagnosis
  • Neck / innervation
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Radiculopathy / diagnosis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity