A Review of Intraexaminer and Interexaminer Reliability of Static Spinal Palpation: A Literature Synthesis

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The purposes of this study were to locate articles that assessed the reliability of static palpation of the spine and sacroiliac joints, to appraise the quality of these studies, and synthesize their results.


A structured literature search was conducted of chiropractic and medical databases PubMed, Manual Alternative and Natural Therapy System, Index to Chiropractic Literature, and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature from 1965 through October 2007. Reference sections were inspected for additional citations. Only peer-reviewed articles in English containing information about static palpation of the spine or sacroiliac joints were selected. The resulting studies were appraised for quality by both of the authors using a 6-point scale instrument developed to assess the quality of reproducibility studies.


The search generated 343 citations, and another 7 were harvested from the reference lists. After removing articles not meeting the inclusion criteria, 29 were retained. A total of 14 studies focused on the reliability of locating painful or tender points, 10 on the location of landmarks, and 5 on position or alignment of bone structures. A higher proportion of studies that assessed painful or tender points reported acceptable levels of reliability. However, there were no significant differences between methods of palpation when considering the proportions of high-quality studies that reported good reliability. Thus, no form of static palpation could be considered to be superior.


Reported indices of agreement were generally low. More of the pain palpation studies reported acceptable κ levels, although no one method of palpation could be deemed clearly superior.

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