Somatosensory Measures in Healthy and Neurologic Conditions: A Systematic Review

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      Identify assessment tools used to measure somatosensory function in adults, critically appraise and summarize the quality of their psychometric properties, and provide guidance for selecting sensory assessment tools for research or clinical purposes.

      Data Sources

      MEDLINE, CINAHL, and PsychInfo were searched for research indexed from 1990 to July 2020. English language and human subject filters were applied. Somatosensation, psychometric property, and nervous system-based health condition search terms were combined.

      Study Selection

      Studies that assessed reliability, construct validity, and/or measurement error of light touch/pressure, vibration, or proprioception assessment tools/techniques in neurologically healthy or disordered adults were reviewed. At least two reviewers examined each article. Discrepancies were resolved by a third reviewer or reviewer consensus.

      Data Extraction

      Individual reviewers performed extraction and managed data using Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap). Extracted data included study sample demographics, characteristics of the assessment tools, statistical methods, results of measurement properties, and feasibility for clinical use. Methodological quality of results was evaluated using an adapted version of the COnsensus-based Standards for the selection of health Measurement INstruments (COSMIN) checklist.

      Data Synthesis

      78 of 1851 articles were included for review. Adequate ratings of reliability were found in four tools measuring light touch/pressure, three tools measuring vibration, three tools measuring proprioception, and one neurophysiologic measure. Of the techniques demonstrating adequate reliability, none achieved minimal detectable change <30% or standard error of the measure <10% when assessed in people with neurologic conditions. Approximately 85% of the pooled study ratings were determined to be of low or very low quality according to modified GRADE criteria. Major sources of variation between studies included administration protocols, timing between assessments, versions of standardized devices, and assessor training protocols.


      No assessment tool met all psychometric criteria. Pattern/texture discrimination tools, electrical perceptual tests, and the moving touch pressure test demonstrated the best overall psychometric properties in people with neurologic conditions. None of these tools are commercially available. There is a fundamental need to develop sensory assessments that are reliable, sensitive to change, and clinically accessible.

      Author(s) Disclosures



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