Accuracy of the Lever Sign Test in the Diagnosis of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries

Orthop J Sports Med. 2017 Oct 11;5(10):2325967117729809. doi: 10.1177/2325967117729809. eCollection 2017 Oct.


Background: The lever sign test is a new physical examination tool to diagnose anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Preliminary results suggest almost 100% sensitivity and specificity to diagnose acute and chronic complete ACL tears and clinically significant partial tears as compared with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Purpose: To assess the sensitivity and specificity of the lever sign test for the diagnosis of acute ACL injuries, as compared to MRI. We also aimed to determine the accuracy of the lever sign test compared with 3 other tests (anterior drawer, Lachman, and pivot shift) when performed by providers of various training levels, and with the patient awake or under anesthesia.

Study design: Cohort study (diagnosis); Level of evidence, 2.

Methods: We evaluated patients with a chief concern of acute (≤4 weeks) knee pain seen between October 2014 and January 2015, with a thorough history, physical examination, and standard radiographs. MRI was the reference standard; patients without an MRI evaluation were excluded. The 4 physical examination maneuvers were performed on each symptomatic knee during the initial clinic visit (for nonsurgical patients) or under anesthesia in the operating room (for surgical patients) by a randomly assigned undergraduate student, medical student, orthopaedic resident, or orthopaedic fellow. The senior author trained all staff to perform the lever sign test. Statistical analyses were performed.

Results: Of 102 patients, 54 were surgical (28 female, 26 male), and 48 were nonsurgical (16 female, 32 male); the mean patient age was 23 years (range, 15-66 years). The overall accuracy of the lever sign test was 77% (63% sensitivity, 90% specificity); the accuracy was similar between patients under anesthesia and awake (77% vs 76%, respectively). There were no significant differences when comparing the sensitivity and specificity of the lever sign test with patients under anesthesia and awake (sensitivity: under anesthesia, 86%, and awake, 68% [P = .40]; specificity: under anesthesia, 85%, and awake, 96% [P = .17]). Furthermore, the accuracy of the lever sign test was similar when performed on female versus male patients (75% vs 79%, respectively) or when performed by undergraduate students and medical students compared with orthopaedic residents and fellows (84% vs 88%, respectively).

Conclusion: Our study results challenge the exceptional sensitivity and specificity values (both 100%) of the lever sign test, as reported by the original author of the test.

Keywords: ACL; Lelli; anterior cruciate ligament; lever sign test.