The objective of the study was to test whether a teaching protocol including simple anatomical information on the surface anatomy of spinous processes, improves physiotherapy students' ability to accurately locate selected thoracic and lumbar spinal segments - T12 and L3. First year physiotherapy students were allocated to Group 1 (n=35) and Group 2 (n=34). Both groups were taught to identify spinous processes by counting up from the sacrum, but Group 2 received supplementary anatomical information on the shapes and vertical length of the tips of L5 to T12 spinous processes. The spinous processes of L3 and T12 were located by two experienced physiotherapists and marked on a model using an invisible skin marker. Volunteer students were asked to locate these spinous processes and accuracy was confirmed using an ultraviolet lamp. Students with supplementary anatomical information (Group 2) were significantly better at locating T12 (difference in proportions 36% (95% confidence interval 14 to 51%)) and both T12 and L3 (difference in proportions 33% (11 to 48%)). Group 2 students were also better than Group 1 students at locating L3 (difference in proportions 28% (4 to 48%)), but the difference was not significant. Including simple anatomical information when teaching manual examination skills improved the accuracy of locating specific low back spinal levels
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