Study design: Repeat measures design.
Objective: The purpose of this study was firstly, to describe a simple clinical tool that can be used to measure the extensibility of the flexor pollicis longus (FPL) muscle; secondly, to test its reliability; and thirdly, to attain some 'normative' data of the extensibility of the FPL muscle in a representative sample of people with tetraplegia.
Setting: A spinal cord injury unit in Sydney.
Subjects: A total of 37 people (62 hands) with C4-C7 tetraplegia.
Main outcome measures: Angle of the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint of the thumb was measured in all subjects with the application of a series of thumb extensor torques. A device specifically designed for this purpose was used to standardize the torque and objectively quantify the CMC joint angle. In addition, repeat measurements were taken 3-5 days later in one subgroup of 13 subjects (one hand per subject) and 3 months later in another subgroup of 13 subjects (one hand per subject).
Analysis: Intraclass correlation coefficients and percent close agreement scores were derived to quantify the 3-5 days and 3-month reliability between repeat measurements.
Results: The median CMC angle of the thumb with the application of a 0.044 Nm torque was 63 degrees (range, 20-93 degrees). The intraclass correlation coefficients with the application of a 0.044 Nm torque were 0.88 (95% CI, 0.65-0.96) for measurements taken 3-5 days apart, and 0.90 (95% CI, 0.67-0.97) for measurements taken 3 months apart.
Conclusion: This study describes a simple and reliable way of measuring the extensibility of the FPL muscle in people with tetraplegia. This assessment tool and the 'normative' data provided in this study can be used to further investigate the contribution of the passive mechanical properties of the FPL muscle to hand function of people with C6 and C7 tetraplegia.