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.
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.
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
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.
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.