Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 418–424 | Cite as

Clinical examination for the detection of protective sensation in the feet of diabetic patients

  • Marek Smieja
  • Dereck L. Hunt
  • David Edelman
  • Edward Etchells
  • Jacques Cornuz
  • David L. Simel
  • the International Cooperative Group for Clinical Examination Research
Original Articles


OBJECTIVE: We compared the reproducibility and accuracy of conventional clinical examination of the diabetic foot to monofilament examination. We also sought to simplify the monofilament examination by reducing it to fewer touch points.

METHODS: In a cross-sectional study at 10 centers in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland, general internists and residents performed a structured history and physical examination for neuropathy on the feet of diabetic patients. Independent examination by two observers included monofilament sensation, pinprick, vibration, position sense, and ankle reflexes.

MAIN RESULTS: A total of 304 patients were examined by at least one practitioner, and 200 received duplicate examinations. Monofilament examination and ankle reflexes had the best reproducibility, with moderate agreement (κ=0.59); pinprick, position, and vibration sense had fair agreement (κ=0.28–0.36). No component of the history or physical examination, singly or in aggregate, was both sensitive and specific for identifying a patient with an abnormal monofilament examination. A simplified monofilament examination using only 4 sites per foot (total 8 sites) detected 90% of patients with an abnormal 16-site monofilament evaluation.

CONCLUSIONS: Conventional clinical examination had low reproducibility and correlated poorly with monofilament examination for the identification of the at-risk patient. The Semmes-Weinstein monofilament examination, a reproduible, valid, and generalizable test of foot sensation, is recommended as the screening procedure of choice for examining diabetic feet.

Key Words

diabetes foot ulcer diabetic neuropathy clinical examination screening 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marek Smieja
    • 1
  • Dereck L. Hunt
    • 1
  • David Edelman
    • 2
  • Edward Etchells
    • 3
  • Jacques Cornuz
    • 4
  • David L. Simel
    • 2
  • the International Cooperative Group for Clinical Examination Research
  1. 1.the Department of Medicine, McMaster University Medical CentreHamilton Health Sciences CorporationHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Department of MedicineDuke University Medical CenterDurham
  3. 3.Department of Medicine, The Toronto HospitalUniversity of TorontoCanada
  4. 4.Universite de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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