Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock

: 2011  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 461--464

Diagnostic accuracy of preoperative clinical examination in upper limb injuries

Mohammad Dehghani1, Hamidreza Shemshaki2, Mohammad Amin Eshaghi1, Mehdi Teimouri1,  
1 Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran
2 Medical Student's Research Committee, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Correspondence Address:
Hamidreza Shemshaki
Medical Student«SQ»s Research Committee, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan


Background : Injuries in hands and forearms may cause significant discomfort and disability. Aim : To evaluate the accuracy of preoperative clinical examination in depicting lesions caused by penetrating wounds of hands or forearms. Setting and Design : This prospective study was conducted from August 2006 to September 2009 at Kashani University Hospital, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. Materials and Methods : Two hundred and fifty patients with clean penetrating injury to the hand/forearm were enrolled in this study. After patient«SQ»s data registration, a careful clinical examination and routine exploration without expansion of wound were done by an orthopedic resident. Each tendon was tested at each joint level. Nerves were evaluated with a two-point discrimination test, and arteries were tested with palpable pulses. Surgical exploration was done by a single hand surgeon in operation room. Accuracy of clinical examination was compared to surgical examination. Results : During the study period, 180 (72%) males and 70 (28%) females with mean age of 28±4 years participated. The preoperative examination showed a predominance of the volar zone IV injuries followed by volar zone II, III, thumb zone II, volar zone V and thumb zone III. Despite the enough accuracy of preoperative examinations in dorsal side injuries of hands and forearms (error rate = 8.3%), the preoperative examinations significantly underestimated the amount of damage to soft tissues on the volar side of hands and forearms (error rate = 14%). Conclusions : The precise surgical evaluations should be considered in patients with penetrating injury to the hand or forearm, especially in those with volar side injuries.

How to cite this article:
Dehghani M, Shemshaki H, Eshaghi MA, Teimouri M. Diagnostic accuracy of preoperative clinical examination in upper limb injuries.J Emerg Trauma Shock 2011;4:461-464

How to cite this URL:
Dehghani M, Shemshaki H, Eshaghi MA, Teimouri M. Diagnostic accuracy of preoperative clinical examination in upper limb injuries. J Emerg Trauma Shock [serial online] 2011 [cited 2019 Nov 17 ];4:461-464
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Penetrating injuries is a common cause of severe neurovascular damage, both in adults and children. [1] The most frequent mechanisms of injury are accidental glass lacerations (55%), knife wounds (24%), and electric saw injuries (11%). [2] The most frequently injured structures are different in reported studies. [2],[3] Hand injuries are the second cause of medicolegal claims and ranked as second in the order of compensation paid by the insurance companies. [4]

Evidences show that after one month, delivery of the flexor tendon through the fibro osseous sheath and the pulley is extremely difficult. In this case, in the absence of extensive scarring and destruction of the tendon sheath, traditional single-stage flexor tendon grafting could be done. [5] Therefore, outcomes of primary repair are better than secondary repair and prompt diagnosis of tendon and associated injuries is of great importance. Some studies suggested that the clinical and functional assessment is more appropriate than series of individual observations and neurophysiological studies. [6] Other studies consider surgical wound exploration for detecting often extensive and unknown degree of injuries. [7],[8] Few studies, however, were conducted to determine and compare the accuracies of pre-operative clinical examinations with surgical wound expansion in operation room for detecting soft tissue lesions in hand/forearm injuries. This study has been conducted to evaluate the accuracy of pre-operative clinical examinations and explorations without the wound expansion compared with exploration in operation room with surgical wound expansion for detecting soft tissue lesions in dorsal and volar sides of the hand and forearm injuries.

 Materials and Methods

This prospective study was conducted from August 2006 to September 2009 at department of Orthopedic Surgery in Kashani University Hospital (Isfahan University of Medical Sciences), Isfahan (IRAN). The study protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences and informed consent was obtained from all patients. The study was registered also at (identifier: NCT01253863).

Two hundred and fifty patients with hand/forearm injuries were enrolled. After registering patients' data such as age, gender, mechanism of injury, and location of the injury, careful clinical examination and exploration of wound without expansion were done by a single orthopedic resident and soft injured tissues were determined as possible. Each tendon was tested at each joint level. The palmaris longus was excluded from consideration. Nerve testing was done via two-point discrimination (with greater than five mm deemed abnormal) and arterial testing of palpable pulse was also performed. Allen's test was performed to determine radial versus ulnar artery. Preoperative radiographs were obtained in all patients to assess the presence of foreign body or fracture.

The patient was then treated according to the usual protocol at our emergency room, which involved surgical exploration in the operating room and treatment of the lesions by a single hand surgeon. All patients were set in the supine position with an arm board and pneumatic upper arm tourniquet. Then surgical exploration was executed under regional or general anesthesia. The wound was expanded and the underlying injured structures were determined. The injuries of each soft tissue lesion were repaired. Tendon lacerations of 50% and greater were recognized as complete laceration, and then repaired. All partially injured nerves were repaired, as well. Postoperative care was also done with our standard protocol of our orthopedic hand surgery clinic.

Data were analyzed using the SPSS software v. 16.0. We used Chi-square and T-test to compare categorical and parametric variables, respectively. P P<</i>0.001). In contrast to volar side, there were no statistical differences between detecting the injured structures in clinical examinations and injured structures according to surgical wound expansion in dorsal side injuries of hands/forearms (P=0.518). There were statistical differences between the injured nerves and the arteries which were detected in the volar side preoperatively and postoperatively (P [9]

In our study, the error rates were estimated about 14% for volar and 8.3% for dorsal sides of wrists and forearms lesions, but in the study by Nassab et al., these rates were found to be about 32% and 25%, respectively. [10] This difference could be due to the retrospective nature of their study and different experiences of the examiners. In our study, the mean of error rate for structural lesions was estimated to be about 26.9%. This result agreed with Gibson et al.'s, report, which showed that 33% of underlying injuries were not detected in preoperative examinations. [11] The difference of these results in error rate may be due to differences in observer or patient characteristics. Patient cooperation is often a problem because of pain, anxiety, chemical impairment, or psychological disturbance and observer errors could not be eliminated, as well. Although almost many authors agree with the role of observer experience in the clinical examination, [12] Gibson et al., showed that the error rate in determining structural lesions were correlated with the injured structure, but not well correlated with the level of experience of the examiner. [11]

Nowadays, studies are ongoing to find an instrument with optimum accuracy in determining structural lesions of the upper limbs. Soubeyrand et al., [13] showed that ultrasonography is highly effective in detecting lesions of tendons and arteries, but it is less reliable regarding nerve damages. The frequencies of injured tissue were different in previous studies. Noaman et al., reported that the most frequently injured structures were median nerve, flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profundus, ulnar nerve and ulnar artery. [2] In another study, Weinzwei et al., reported that the most frequently injured structures were flexor carpi ulnaris, median nerve, flexor digitorum superficialis and ulnar nerve. [3] Our study showed that the most injured structures were flexor digitorum superficialis tendons, radial nerve and flexor carpi ulnaris tendon on the volar side and extensor digitorum tendons on the dorsal side of hands and forearms.

Mechanisms of injuries were also varied in previous studies, [2] but knife and glass are the most common causes of injuries. We found that knife wounds were the most common cause of injuries and glass injuries obtained the second degree. Other causes such as hacksaw and jigsaw injuries may be related to the properties of Isfahan city, which is an industrial city.

The limitation of our study was that the hand surgeon was not blinded to the physical examination results which might overvalue the accuracy of surgical examination.


According to the results of this study, preoperative clinical examination has an acceptable accuracy for injuries in the dorsal side of the hands/forearms compared with surgical examination. However, it significantly underestimates the extent of injuries to the volar side. Therefore, precise surgical evaluation is recommended for patients with upper extremity injuries, especially in patients with volar side. Further studies on comparing the accuracy of other instruments such as ultrasonography for detecting soft tissue lesions of the upper extremities are warranted.


This study was supported by the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. We are thankful to Dr. Ali Gholamrezaei for editing this report. Also, we are thankful to emergency department staff of the Kashani Hospital for helping us in conducting this study.


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