The Stiffness Comparison Test: A pilot study to determine inter-individual differences in palpatory skill related to gender, age, and occupation-related experience

J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2020 Oct;24(4):1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2020.06.009. Epub 2020 Jul 11.

Abstract

Background: Manual palpation is a core skill in physical examination. Assessing elastic properties such as tissue stiffness has the potential for being an important diagnostics tool in the detection of cancer and other diseases.

Objective: The study describes the newly developed Stiffness Comparison Test (SCT). The aim of our study was to test the SCT as a tool to detect interindividual differences in palpation skill related to gender, age and occupational experience.

Methods: We used eight pairs of polyuterhane gel pads with the stiffness difference decreasing from the first to the last pair. Test subjects were asked to palpate each pair and determine stiffness differences.

Participants: We recruited 25 osteopaths, 48 other manual therapists and 50 participants from other non-manual professions.

Results: As hypothesized there was no significant difference in SCT performance between the sexes (t(121) = 0.288, p = .774). To investigate if an age-related decline would have an effect on palpation skill, we carried out a linear regression. As hypothesized, the model did not predict any significant associations (F(1, 121) = 2.733, b = -0.149, p = .101, R2 = 0.022). To compare the effect of occupational groups on SCT performance a one-way ANOVA was conducted. There were no statistically significant differences between group means (F(2, 120) = 0.598, p = .552).

Conclusions: The SCT can be used as simple and affordable tool for assessment, teaching and training in all disciplines of manual medicine. Further refinements of the tool are suggested to advance its discrimination power.

Keywords: Elasticity; Medical education; Osteopathic medicine; Palpation; Physical examination; Soft tissue therapy; Therapeutic touch.