Sensitivity of standardised musculoskeletal examination of the hand and wrist joints in detecting arthritis in comparison to ultrasound findings in patients attending rheumatology clinics

Clin Rheumatol. 2012 Sep;31(9):1309-17. doi: 10.1007/s10067-012-2013-5. Epub 2012 Jun 7.


The aim of this study is to standardise the muscuoloskeletal (MSK) examination of the hand and wrist joints and to determine the sensitivity of this standard exam to diagnose arthritis in comparison to ultrasound (US) findings. A standardised approach to MSK examination of the hand and wrist joints was formulated. It consists of inspection, followed by screening exam based on active range of motion testing, and then using specific techniques to detect clinical swelling and tenderness. The scissor and squeeze techniques for metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints, 4-finger technique for the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints and 2-thumb technique for the wrist joints. Patients aged 18-75 years with symptoms suggestive of inflammatory arthritis for more than 3 months were included in the study from two centres. Two rheumatologists conducted MSK examination, while a grayscale with power Doppler US was performed by two ultrasonographers recording signs of arthritis (effusion, proliferation and hyperaemia) on the same day of visit. Statistical analysis was carried out to compare MSK examination findings in detecting swelling and tenderness to US examination findings. A total of 2,112 joints were assessed both clinically and with US. Using a standard MSK examination by a rheumatologist to detect clinical swelling showed the following sensitivities as compared to US findings: 4-finger technique of 69 % in third PIP, the scissor technique of 74 % in second MCP and 70 % in third MCP, and the 2-thumb technique of 80 % at the wrist joint. The MCP squeeze technique showed sensitivity of 66 % for tenderness. A standard MSK examination with its described techniques is a sensitive tool if used appropriately to diagnose clinical arthritis as compared to US.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthritis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Finger Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Male
  • Metacarpophalangeal Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal System
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Rheumatology / methods*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler / methods
  • Wrist Joint / diagnostic imaging*