Interprofessional inconsistencies in the diagnosis of shoulder instability: Survey results of physicians and rehabilitation providers

Constantine P. Nicolozakes, Xinning Li, Tim L. Uhl, Guido Marra, Nitin B. Jain, Eric J. Perreault, Amee L. Seitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1125
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, North American Sports Medicine Institute. All rights reserved.


  • Multidirectional instability
  • Rotator cuff impingement
  • Shoulder instability
  • Sulcus sign

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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