Background: Accurate measurements of shoulder and elbow motion are required for the management of musculoskeletal pathology. The purpose of this investigation was to compare three techniques for measuring motion. The authors hypothesized that digital photography would be equivalent in accuracy and show higher precision compared to the other two techniques. Methods: Using infrared motion capture analysis as the reference standard, shoulder flexion/abduction/internal rotation/external rotation and elbow flexion/extension were measured using visual estimation, goniometry, and digital photography on 10 fresh frozen cadavers. These measurements were performed by three physical therapists and three orthopaedic surgeons. Accuracy was defined by the difference from the reference standard (motion capture analysis), while precision was defined by the proportion of measurements within the authors' definition of clinical significance (10° for all motions except for elbow extension where 5° was used). Analysis of variance (ANOVA), t-tests, and chi-squared tests were used. Results: Although statistically significant differences were found in measurement accuracy between the three techniques, none of these differences met the authors' definition of clinical significance. Precision of the measurements was significantly higher for both digital photography (shoulder abduction [93% vs. 74%, p < 0.001], shoulder internal rotation [97% vs. 83%, p = 0.001], and elbow flexion [93% vs. 65%, p < 0.001]) and goniometry (shoulder abduction [92% vs. 74%, p < 0.001] and shoulder internal rotation [94% vs. 83%, p = 0.008]) than visual estimation. Digital photography was more precise than goniometry for measurements of elbow flexion only [93% vs. 76%, p < 0.001]. Conclusions: There was no clinically significant difference in measurement accuracy between the three techniques for shoulder and elbow motion. Digital photography showed higher measurement precision compared to visual estimation for shoulder abduction, shoulder internal rotation, and elbow flexion. However, digital photography was only more precise than goniometry for measurements of elbow flexion. Overall digital photography shows equivalent accuracy to visual estimation and goniometry, but with higher precision than visual estimation.
- Arthrometry, Articular/methods
- Elbow Joint/physiology
- Range of Motion, Articular/physiology
- Sensitivity and Specificity
- Shoulder Joint/physiology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine