Reinterpretation of O’Brien test in posterior labral tears of the shoulder


J Matthew Owen1, Thomas Boulter2, Mike Walton1, Lennard Funk1, Tanya Anne Mackenzie1
1 University of Manchester Medical School, Bridgewater Hospital, Manchester, MA15 5AT, United Kingdom
2 The University of Manchester, School of Medicine, Manchester M13 9PT, United Kingdom

Background: Injuries to the posterior labrum are less common and more difficult to diagnose compared to anterior labral pathology. This may be in part due to difficulties in preoperative diagnosis. Posterior labral injuries cause abnormal loading of the rotator cuff with subsequent weakness. Examination using the O’Briens test tightens the posterior capsule and posteriorly translates the humeral head, stressing the labrum resulting in pain and weakness. Method: A retrospective study. Results: Of 74 patients diagnosed with a posterior labral tear at arthroscopy 55 had subjective weakness on performing a O’Briens test, a sensitivity of 83% and a positive predictive value (PPV) of 90%. Conclusion: Multiple tests have been described for posterior labral pathology and none of these, on their own, have a high sensitivity rate. Posterior labral injuries can often be missed on magnetic resonance imaging scanning and also at surgery if not specifically looked for. Using a sign of clinically demonstrated weakness when performing the O’Briens test, and hence reinterpretation of the test, is sensitive, with a high PPV for posterior labral pathology and can help guide further treatment.



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