Clinical Tests of Tibialis Posterior Tendinopathy: Are They Reliable, and How Well Are They Reflected in Structural Changes on Imaging?

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2021 May;51(5):253-260. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2021.9707. Epub 2021 Mar 28.


Objective: To determine the reliability of common clinical tests for tibialis posterior tendinopathy (TPT) and to investigate their relationship with grayscale ultrasound findings in individuals who have medial foot/ankle pain.

Design: Prospective cohort.

Methods: Fifty-two individuals reporting medial foot/ankle pain were clinically examined by 2 physical therapists using 4 clinical tests for TPT: pain on tendon palpation, swelling around the tendon, pain/weakness with tibialis posterior contraction, and pain during or inability to perform a single-leg heel raise (SLHR). Individuals also underwent an ultrasound examination by a sonographer. Physical therapists and the sonographer were blind to each other's findings. Positive ultrasound examination included at least 1 of the following grayscale changes: hypoechogenicity, fibrillar disruption, or thickening of the tendon. For reliability between the 2 physical therapists, we calculated kappa coefficients and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). To assess relationships between clinical and imaging findings, we calculated odds ratios and 95% CIs.

Results: The SLHR was the most reliable test, with substantial agreement between physical therapists (κ = 0.74; 95% CI: 0.54, 0.93), while the other tests had moderate levels of reliability. Of all clinical tests, the SLHR was most related to grayscale findings on ultrasound (odds ratio = 5.8), but was imprecisely so, with a 95% CI of 1.7 to 20.4.

Conclusion: Of all tests, the SLHR was the most reliable between clinicians and best related to imaging findings in individuals presenting with TPT, aligning with contemporary thinking of tendinopathy as a load-related clinical presentation. There was a disconnect between clinical findings and ultrasound grayscale changes in the tibialis posterior tendon in individuals with TPT. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2021;51(5):253-260. Epub 28 Mar 2021. doi:10.2519/jospt.2021.9707.

Keywords: tendinopathy; tibialis posterior; ultrasound.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Examination*
  • Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tendinopathy / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tendinopathy / physiopathology*
  • Ultrasonography*