Background: Clinicians of many specialties within sports medicine care for athletes with shoulder instability, but successful outcomes are inconsistent. Consistency across specialties in the diagnosis of shoulder instability is critical for care of the athlete, yet the extent of divergence in its diagnosis is unknown.

Hypothesis: Physicians differ from rehabilitation providers in which findings they deem clinically important to differentiate shoulder instability from impingement, and in how they diagnose athlete scenarios with atraumatic shoulder instability.

Study Design: Cross-sectional study.

Methods: Physicians (orthopaedic surgeons, primary care sports medicine physicians) and rehabilitation providers (physical therapists, athletic trainers) were asked via an online survey to rate clinical factors used to diagnose shoulder instability. Clinicians were also asked to diagnose two athlete scenarios with concurrent clinical findings of atraumatic shoulder instability and impingement, differentiated by the absence or presence of a positive sulcus sign.

Results: Responses were recorded from 888 clinicians. Orthopaedic surgeons (N=170) and primary care sports medicine physicians (N=108) ranked physical examination factors as more important for the diagnosis of shoulder instability than patient history factors, whereas physical therapists (N=379) and athletic trainers (N=231) preferred patient history factors. Orthopaedic surgeons differed from physical therapists and athletic trainers in their clinical diagnoses for both scenarios (P≤0.001).

Conclusion: A lack of consistency exists among sports medicine clinicians in recognizing which clinical factors are important when used to diagnose shoulder instability and in diagnoses given with concurrent findings of impingement.

Level of Evidence: Level 3.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, v. 16, issue 4.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
(CCBY-NC-SA-4.0). View this license’s legal deed at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0 and legal code at
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode for more information.

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Funding Information

This work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIAMS F31AR074288, NIGMS T32GM008152), Northwestern University, the American Academy of Sports Physical Therapy, the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy, and the American Physical Therapy Association.

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