The clinical examination of the shoulder joint is an undervalued diagnostic tool for evaluating acromioclavicular (AC) joint pathology. Applying evidence-based clinical tests enables providers to make an accurate diagnosis and minimize costly imaging procedures and potential delays in care. The purpose of this study was to create a decision tree analysis enabling simple and accurate diagnosis of AC joint pathology.
A systematic review of the Medline, Ovid and Cochrane Review databases was performed to identify level one and two diagnostic studies evaluating clinical tests for AC joint pathology. Individual test characteristics were combined in series and in parallel to improve sensitivities and specificities. A secondary analysis utilized subjective pre-test probabilities to create a clinical decision tree algorithm with post-test probabilities.
The optimal special test combination to screen and confirm AC joint pathology combined Paxinos sign and O’Brien’s Test, with a specificity of 95.8% when performed in series; whereas, Paxinos sign and Hawkins-Kennedy Test demonstrated a sensitivity of 93.7% when performed in parallel. Paxinos sign and O’Brien’s Test demonstrated the greatest positive likelihood ratio (2.71); whereas, Paxinos sign and Hawkins-Kennedy Test reported the lowest negative likelihood ratio (0.35).
No combination of special tests performed in series or in parallel creates more than a small impact on post-test probabilities to screen or confirm AC joint pathology. Paxinos sign and O’Brien’s Test is the only special test combination that has a small and sometimes important impact when used both in series and in parallel. Physical examination testing is not beneficial for diagnosis of AC joint pathology when pretest probability is unequivocal. In these instances, it is of benefit to proceed with procedural tests to evaluate AC joint pathology. Ultrasound-guided corticosteroid injections are diagnostic and therapeutic. An ultrasound-guided AC joint corticosteroid injection may be an appropriate new standard for treatment and surgical decision-making.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:
II – Systematic Review.