What are Special Tests?

special-testSpecial Tests are orthopedic diagnostic tests that help identify the nature of musculoskeletal conditions. These special tests are used in creating a proper treatment plan or therapy for a patient’s injury or condition.

Special Tests: Physical Examination

Therapists can tell physical issues by looking for “obvious” signs and symptoms include weak or asymmetrical muscles, improper alignment, swelling, changes in skin color.
Therapists may also perform physical examinations that involve gait analysis, palpation, muscle testing, flexibility testing, and reflex response.


Special Tests: Palpation

Palpation means touching. During the physical examination, your therapist may feel your joints and muscles to see if they are warm or swollen. The therapist may be looking for signs of inflammation. They may apply pressure to a muscle or joint to identify an area of sensitivity, discomfort, pain or tenderness.

Therapists may also place a hand over a joint and ask patients to move the joint, to feel the tendons as they move over the joint, and  to observe if it present signs of pain or discomfort or complain of a “popping or clicking” sensation.

Special Tests: Range of Motion (ROM) Testing

Range of motion tests are used to measure how well a patient can move a joint. Some joints like the thumb hips, and shoulder have a wide range of motion. Other joints like the elbow are like hinges and have a more limited range of motion. Range of motion tests may be active or passive. In active range of motion tests, the patient do all the movement. In passive ROM tests, the therapist will hold the extremity and move it. The therapist may also hold the next joint steady to isolate the movement of the joint being tested.

Special Tests: Flexibility Tests

Flexibility tests are used to measure the range of motion in a joint and are often part of the physical examination. Flexibility testing may be used to help determine whether a patient has muscle imbalance or a condition such as arthritis. Flexibility tests may also help determine the progression of a patient’s condition.

There are several different kinds of flexibility special tests for specific joints and muscles. Therapists may ask patients to reach or bend or to move the affected extremity in certain ways. No preparation is required for the patient, and normally these tests are not painful. If there is any pain during the course of the special testing, patients should not hesitate to communicate this with the therapist.

Special Tests: Muscle Tests

Muscles are soft tissues, and they do not appear on X-rays. This makes muscle testing an important part of the physical examination. Weakness in a muscle may indicate injury to the tendons that connect the muscle to bone, or injury to the nerves that innervate the muscle. Muscle weakness may also indicate generalized weakness of the muscle itself from disuse.To test the strength of muscles, therapists may ask patients to move in certain ways while he or she applies a resistive force.

Special Tests: Stress Tests

Because our bones, muscles and connective tissues  such as ligaments and tendons are constantly responding to pressure, force or stress, therapists may use applied stress to measure their response. For example, a therapist may hold a patient’s forearm still with one hand and move their wrist up and around. This motion applies stress to the ligaments connecting the wrist and the forearm, or the nerve that goes through the carpal tunnel. With these kinds of tests, therapists will be able to identify the nature of the patient’s musculoskeletal condition, and devise a proper treatment plan.