OBJECTIVES: Patients with hip or knee osteoarthritis (OA) may experience functional limitations in work settings. In the Cohort Hip and Cohort Knee study (CHECK) physical function was both self-reported and measured performance-based, using Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE). Relations between self-reported scores on SF-36 and WOMAC (Western Ontario and McMaster Arthritis Index, function scales) and FCE performance were studied, and their diagnostic value for clinicians in predicting observed physical work limitations was assessed. METHODS: Ninety-two subjects scored physical function on SF-36 (scale 0-100, 100 indicating the best health level) and WOMAC (scale 0-68, 68 indicates maximum restriction) and performed the FCE. Correlations were calculated between all scores. Cross-tables were constructed using both questionnaires as diagnostic tests to identify work limitations. Subjects lifting <22.5 kg on the FCE-test 'lifting-low' were labeled as having physical work limitations. Diagnostic aspects at different cut-off scores for both questionnaires were analysed. RESULTS: Statistically significant correlations (Spearman's rho 0.34-0.49) were found between questionnaire scores and lifting and carrying tests. Results of a diagnostic cross-table with cut-off point <60 on SF-36 'physical functioning' were: sensitivity 0.34, specificity 0.97 and positive predictive value (PV+) 0.95. Cut-off point > or =21 on WOMAC 'function' resulted in sensitivity 0.51, specificity 0.88 and PV+ 0.88. CONCLUSION: Low self-reported function scores on SF-36 and WOMAC diagnosed subjects with limitations on the FCE. However, high scores did not guarantee performance without physical work limitations. These results are specific to the tested persons with early OA, in populations with a different prevalence of limitations, different diagnostic values will be found. FCE may be indicated to help clinicians to assess actual work capacity
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