Objective: Poor reproducibility of spinal palpation has been reported in previously published literature, and authors of recent reviews have posted criticism on study quality. This article critically analyzes the literature pertaining to the inter- and intraobserver reproducibility of spinal palpation to investigate the consistency of study results and assess the level of evidence for reproducibility.
Methods: Systematic review and meta-analysis were performed on relevant literature published from 1965 to 2005, identified using the electronic databases MEDLINE, MANTIS, and CINAHL and checking of reference lists. Descriptive data from included articles were extracted independently by 2 reviewers. A 6-point scale was constructed to assess the methodological quality of original studies. A meta-analysis was conducted among the high-quality studies to investigate the consistency of data, separately on motion palpation, static palpation, osseous pain, soft tissue pain, soft tissue changes, and global assessment. A standardized method was used to determine the level of evidence.
Results: The quality score of 48 included studies ranged from 0% to 100%. There was strong evidence that the interobserver reproducibility of osseous and soft tissue pain is clinically acceptable (kappa > or = 0.4) and that intraobserver reproducibility of soft tissue pain and global assessment are clinically acceptable. Other spinal procedures are either not reproducible or the evidence is conflicting or preliminary.