Purpose: The presence of intra-articular findings that may complement the extra-articular pathology in lateral epicondilytis has been suggested, and a role for minor instability of the elbow as part of the causative process of this disease has been postulated. This study was designed to describe two new clinical tests, aimed at detecting intra-articular pathology in patients affected by recalcitrant lateral epicondylitis and investigate their diagnostic performance.
Methods: Ten patients suffering of atraumatic lateral elbow pain unresponsive to conservative treatment were considered in this study. Two clinical tests were developed and administrated prior to arthroscopy: Supination and Antero-Lateral pain Test (SALT); Posterior Elbow Pain by Palpation-Extension of the Radiocapitellar joint (PEPPER). Sensitivity, specificity, predictive values and accuracy of SALT and PEPPER as diagnostic tests for seven intra-articular findings were calculated.
Results: In 90% of the patients, at least one test was positive. All patients with signs of lateral ligamentous patholaxity or intra-articular abnormal findings had a positive response to at least one of the two tests. SALT proved to have a high sensitivity but a low specificity and is accurate in detecting the presence of intra-articular abnormal findings, especially synovitis. PEPPER test was sensible, specific and accurate in the detection of radial head chondropathy.
Conclusions: Two new diagnostic tests (SALT and PEPPER) were specifically designed to evoke pain from intra-articular structures. These tests could be a valid support in the diagnostic algorithm of recalcitrant lateral elbow pain. Positive findings may be indicative of a minor instability of the lateral elbow condition.
Level of evidence: Diagnostic study, development of diagnostic criteria on basis of consecutive patients, level II.
Keywords: Diagnostic test; Elbow arthroscopy; Lateral epicondylitis; Minor instability; SMILE; Tennis elbow.