Adaptive Staircase Measurement of Hand Proprioception

PLoS One. 2015 Aug 14;10(8):e0135757. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135757. eCollection 2015.


Clinicians and researchers often need to measure proprioception (position sense), for example to monitor the progress of disease, to identify the cause of movement or balance problems, or to ascertain the effects of an intervention. While researchers can use sophisticated equipment to estimate proprioceptive acuity with good precision, clinicians lack this option and must rely on the subjective and imprecise methods currently available in the clinic. Here we describe a novel technique that applies psychometric adaptive staircase procedures to hand proprioception with a simple tablet-style apparatus that could easily be adapted for the clinic. We report test-retest reliability, inter-rater reliability, and construct validity of the adaptive staircase method vs. two other methods that are commonly used in clinical settings: passive motion direction discrimination (PMDD) and matching. As a first step, we focus on healthy adults. Subjects ages 18-82 had their proprioception measured with each of the three techniques, at the metacarpophalangeal joint in the second finger of the right hand. A subset completed a second session in which the measures were repeated, to assess test-retest reliability. Another subset had the measurements done by two different testers to assess inter-rater reliability. Construct validity was assessed using stepwise regression on age and activity level, and correlations calculated across the three methods. Results suggest that of the three methods, the adaptive staircase method yields the best test-retest reliability, inter-rater reliability, and construct validity. The adaptive staircase method may prove to be a valuable clinical tool where more accurate assessment of proprioception is needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Finger Joint / physiology*
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metacarpophalangeal Joint / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Proprioception / physiology*

Grant support

This study was supported by Indiana University, School of Public Health, Faculty Research Grant Program (HJB). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.