Sternoclavicular joint palpation pain: the shoulder's Waddell sign?

Academic Article


  • Background: Pain is a complex and subjective reality and can be magnified by nonorganic or nonanatomic sources. Multiple studies have demonstrated a correlation between psychological factors and patients’ perceptions of musculoskeletal pain and disability. In addition, nonorganic findings as part of the physical examination are well and long recognized. The purpose of this study was to analyze the relationship between a shoulder examination test, palpation of the sternoclavicular joint (SCJ), and psychosocial conditions including chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. Methods: From June until October 2016, all new patients of 2 sports/shoulder fellowship-trained surgeons at an academic practice were screened for study enrollment. After their consent was obtained, patients were given a set of 5 surveys (Pain Catastrophizing Scale; Patient-Health Questionnaire 2; Pain Self-Efficacy Questionnaire; shortened Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire; and Shoulder Pain and Disability Index) to complete. The physician then completed a comprehensive standardized physical examination, with the examining physician being blinded to the patient's survey responses. Palpation of the SCJ was done with the examiner's thumbs and was accompanied by the question “Does this hurt?” If a positive pain response was given, clarification as to the correct side of the pain was made. Results: A total of 132 patients were enrolled and completed the surveys and physical examination. Of the patients, 26 (19.7%) reported SCJ pain with SCJ palpation. Patients with and without confirmed pain on SCJ palpation had significantly different (P <.001) mean scores for all 5 surveys. A review of the medical histories between the 2 groups identified a significantly increased prevalence of chronic pain and mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, in SCJ palpation–positive patients. Conclusions: Patients who confirmed pain on SCJ palpation had significantly higher scores on various psychological surveys than those who denied pain on palpation, indicating that a portion of their pain was stemming from a nonorganic source. Inclusion of SCJ palpation during a routine shoulder or upper extremity physical examination may improve selection of treatment options for patients.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 17389758
  • Author List

  • Ponce BA; Archie AT; Watson SL; Hudson PW; Menendez ME; McGwin G; Brabston EW
  • Start Page

  • e203
  • End Page

  • e209
  • Volume

  • 27
  • Issue

  • 7