Muscle force testing is one of the more common categories of diagnostic tests used in clinical practice. Clinicians have little evidence to guide interpretations of muscle force tests when pain is elicited during testing.
The purpose of this study was to examine the construct validity of isometric quadriceps muscle strength tests by determining whether the relationship between maximal isometric quadriceps muscle strength and functional status was influenced by pain during isometric testing.
A cross-sectional design was used.
Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative were used to identify 1,344 people with unilateral knee pain and Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) pain subscale scores of 1 or higher on the involved side. Measurements of maximal isometric quadriceps strength and ratings of pain during isometric testing were collected. Outcome variables were WOMAC physical function subscale, 20-m walk test, 400-m walk test, and a repeated chair stand test. Multiple regression models were used to determine whether pain during testing modified or confounded the relationship between strength and functional status.
Pearson r correlations among the isometric quadriceps strength measures and the 4 outcome measures ranged from −.36 (95% confidence interval=−.41, −.31) for repeated chair stands to .36 (95% confidence interval=.31, .41) for the 20-m walk test. In the final analyses, neither effect modification nor confounding was found for the repeated chair stand test, the 20-m walk test, the 400-m walk test, or the WOMAC physical function subscale. Moderate or severe pain during testing was weakly associated with reduced strength, but mild pain was not.
The disease spectrum was skewed toward mild or moderate symptoms, and the pain measurement scale used during muscle force testing was not ideal.
Given that the spectrum of the sample was skewed toward mild or moderate symptoms and disease, the data suggest that isometric quadriceps muscle strength tests maintain their relationship with self-report or performance-based disability measures even when pain is elicited during testing.