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A disjointed effort: paediatric musculoskeletal examination

Abstract

Background Musculoskeletal (MSK) symptoms are a frequent cause of emergency department attendance for children, and while most often indicative of benign or self-limiting disease, such symptoms can occasionally be the first presentation of serious illness such as leukaemia or juvenile idiopathic arthritis. MSK examination, however, is often not included as part of the routine paediatric examination. The authors aimed to evaluate how often and how thoroughly MSK examination was performed during admissions to the paediatric ward and to compare it with the examination of other symptoms in relation to the presenting complaint and eventual diagnosis.

Results Medical records for 100 consecutive patients were reviewed. A poster campaign to increase awareness was then commenced along with oral and written presentations to staff regarding MSK examination. A further 100 consecutive patients were then reviewed. Only 9% of children in the initial group had routine MSK examination, rising to 32% in the second group. Where performed, MSK examination was often incomplete. Frequent errors included only examining the reported site of injury and only examining a single limb or single joint when limpness/stiffness was the presenting complaint. Non-limb joints were very rarely examined.

Conclusions MSK examination is not performed routinely during paediatric admissions in contrast to the examination of other symptoms regardless of the presenting complaint. This may need to be addressed by local audit and increased undergraduate teaching.

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