History of standard scoring, notation, and summation of neuromuscular signs. A current survey and recommendation

J Peripher Nerv Syst. 2005 Jun;10(2):158-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1085-9489.2005.0010206.x.


In this article, we trace the history of scoring, notation, and summation of the neuromuscular signs of muscle weakness and decrease of tendon reflexes and sensation. We recommend a standard system to promote consistency in the effort introduced by Mitchell and Lewis to "represent systems and force by their signs." The scoring of neuromuscular signs began with Mitchell and Lewis in the 19th century who used pluses, minuses, and N (for normal) to express the activity of muscle stretch reflexes. Henry Plummer introduced an ordinal scoring approach for muscle weakness, reflex decrease and increase, and sensation loss. In 1919, he and Walter Sheldon and Henry Woltman introduced standard pre-printed examination forms with written instructions for notation and scoring. Robert Lovett, a Boston orthopedist, scored weak muscles of poliomyelitis patients from 2 (mild weakness) to 6 (paralyzed), 1 being normal. Lovett's approach was used, after reversing the order of the grades and decreasing each grade by 1, by a Committee of the Medical Research Council for evaluating return of muscle weakness after nerve injury. Despite dissimilarity to existing reflex and sensation scores and uneven width of grades, this approach was widely adopted for use in neurologic practice. We introduced the Neuropathy Impairment Score using a combination of the Mitchell, Plummer, and Lovett approaches, summing all individual scores of a standard set of neuromuscular examinations. In a non-representative survey of 19 neuromuscular physicians from different countries, we find that there is a considerable variability in the approaches used for grading. Assuming that scoring is useful, we herein suggest (a) impairments should be scored separately from hyperfunction and (b) for the scoring of impairments (muscle weakness, reflex decrease, and sensation loss), the same ordinal scoring approach should be used with 0 as normal and 1, 2, ... representing increasing impairment based on the judgment of percentage abnormality with corrections made for age, sex, physical fitness, and physical characteristics.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Database Management Systems
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Health Planning Guidelines*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Medical History Taking / standards*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Neuromuscular Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Neuromuscular Diseases* / history
  • Neuromuscular Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Physicians