Manipulative physiotherapists can reliably palpate nominated lumbar spinal levels Academic Article uri icon


  • Palpating a nominated spinal level is a prerequisite to more complex tasks such as palpating the level most likely to be the source of the patient's symptoms. The aim of this study was to investigate the reliability of physiotherapists with a post-graduate qualification in manipulation (manipulative physiotherapists) in palpating the lumbar spines of patients in a clinical setting. Three pairs of manipulative physiotherapists palpated the randomly-nominated lumbar spinal levels of 20 patients presenting to their practices for treatment of low-back pain. Each therapist marked the skin overlying the spinous process of the nominated spinal level with an ultraviolet pen and these marks were transcribed onto transparencies for analysis. The therapists obtained an overall weighted kappa of 0.92 indicating almost perfect agreement for locating the nominated spinal level. The results of this study indicate that manipulative physiotherapists can reliably palpate nominated lumbar spinal levels, suggesting further training in spinal therapy enhances the palpatory skills of physiotherapists in palpating nominated lumbar spinal levels.

publication date

  • August 1999