In previous posts, I discussed why we would consider testing an athlete in an open-kinetic chain sport with a closed-kinetic chain test. Then, I discussed the hierarchy of testing and began with the Functional Movement Screen Trunk Stability Push Up and the Upper Quarter Y Balance test as basic tests of movement competency, motor control competency, and motor control capacity. Now we will examine another test that looks at capacity – the Closed Kinetic Chain Upper Extremity Stability Test.


The Closed Kinetic Chain Upper Extremity Stability Test is reliable and has some discriminant and predictive validity.1-3 The test is performed in a pushup position with the hands placed 36 inches apart on strips of athletic tape. The person reaches with alternating hands across the body to touch the piece of tape under the opposing hand. The number of cross-body touches performed in 15 seconds is recorded. The test can be modified by performing the test in the kneeling position.

It has also been suggested that the number of touches can also be divided by height to normalize the number of touches to each person. While this does give some normalization, the test is still not body relative since everyone has hands placed 36 inches apart (think about how hard that position would be for 5 foot tall gymnast compared to a 7 foot tall basketball player). In addition, a power score can be calculated by “multiplying the average number of touches with 68% of the patient’s body weight in kilograms, which is the weight of the arms, head, and trunk. That score is then divided by 15, which is the duration of the test in seconds. The power score reflects the amount of work performed in a unit of time.”


It appears that the CKCUEST does have some discriminant validity. In a recent study, researchers found that those with shoulder impingement performed substantially worse on the test compared to activity level matched controls.3 They also found the MDC to range between 2 and 4. What is interesting is that 15-25% of the “healthy” subjects reported shoulder pain after performing the test. This again speaks to the importance of having a hierarchy of testing (and maybe the number of people that consider having shoulder pain as normal).3 There is one prospective study that examines the predictive validity of the CKCUEST in collegiate football players.4 Researchers did a battery of strength, ROM, shoulder endurance, and CKCUEST at the beginning of the season on 26 players. The authors found that scoring less than 21 touches increased the likelihood of a shoulder injury during the season (5/6 of the injured players scored below 20 touches).4 While this test requires upper quarter stability, it is more of a speed/agility/power test as its measurement is touches per unit of time/height/bodyweight. I think the real value of the test lies in what one of the original authors describes as its ability to identify patients who were

“unwilling or unable to perform or developed pain during the test were not able to participate in their sport pain-free in the glenohumeral complex.”1

Bottom Line: Given the number of healthy people that have pain with the test and its potential predictive validity, it may have a place in the testing continuum to identify those with unreported pain/problems once lower level testing is complete (shoulder mobility, impingement clearing test, trunk stability push up, etc.). In addition, it can be used as one factor to determine that a person has the capacity to accept weight through one limb which is an important demonstration of stability and strength particularly after rehabilitation. Remember, this assumes all lower level testing has been passed.  







1.  Goldbeck TG, Davies J. Test-Retest Reliability of the Closed Kinetic Chain Upper Extremity Stability Test: A Clinical Field Test. J of Sport Rehabil. 2000;9(1):35-46.

2.  Roush JR, Kitamura J, Waits MC. Reference Values for the Closed Kinetic Chain Upper Extremity Stability Test (CKCUEST) for Collegiate Baseball Players. NAJSPT. Aug 2007;2(3):159-163.

3.  Tucci HT, Martins J, Sposito Gde C, Camarini PM, de Oliveira AS. Closed Kinetic Chain Upper Extremity Stability test (CKCUES test): a reliability study in persons with and without shoulder impingement syndrome. BMC musculoskeletal disorders. 2014;15:1.

4.  Pontillo M. Spinelli BA SB. Prediction of In-Season Shoulder Injury From Preseason Testing in Division I Collegiate Football Players. Sports Health. 2014.

We’ve been discussing return to sport and discharge testing. In our last post, we met Jane, a 36 year old with knee and hip pain due to lack of systematic discharge testing after her ACL reconstruction 20 years earlier. This  left her with modifiable risk factors and now pain. Worse yet, she is trying to get into shape but is struggling due to this recent “injury.” Remember, we can prevent these injuries, but the key is systematic testing at return to sport and discharge. But before we get into the specific tests and criteria, let’s discuss how we should go about selecting those tests.

The Missing Link

Obviously, the test should be reliable and measure the domain that you are trying to test. But which domains should we test? Using a Delphi study method, Haines et al created a checklist of domains that an expert panel felt were important to include in return to sport testing. The domains that the experts suggested testing included:

      • pain
      • coordination
      • movement
      • balance
      • neuromuscular control
      • power
      • sport specific movements
      • strength and range of motion ** this is my addition (we will discuss the research related to these and risk of injury)

I think we all would agree with the above list, but how do we go about selecting the specific test and criteria for return to sport or discharge? I believe most of us already test those domains, but our current standard of care is leaving people with a substantial risk of future injury.

What are we missing?  I believe we are missing 3 key concepts in return to sport and discharge testing:

1) When possible, the tests we use should be predictive of injury

– Could you imagine if your primary care physician could do a few simple tests that could quickly give you a snapshot of your risk of a disease? Wouldn’t you expect her to perform them? As a matter of fact, they currently do (think heart rate and blood pressure). We owe this to our patients in rehabilitation as well. But when it comes to return to sport, I believe we put too much and too early emphasis on tests requiring high level physical function and other sport specific tests. While those are important, I  think we need to consider tests predictive of injury or that identify traits that lead to susceptibility to injury.

2) The tests need to be arranged in a hierarchical fashion ( This case study in BJSM is a start).

– Currently, I think we assume (often unconsciously) that if an athlete can hop/cut/run well, then they have the foundational requirements of ROM, strength,  basic movement and balance. Or, that those foundational traits are not as important. But frequently, this is not the case. There is little need to perform testing at higher levels of function if there is a fatal flaw in movement or balance at lower levels of function. If the athlete passes the higher level testing, they too ASSUME that they are good to go.

3) We need to set the minimum criteria for discharge to be near what a person at “Normal” risk would score on the test (and I would argue it should be even higher than that).

– Since we know that athletes who have been previously injured are more likely to be injured again and that motor control changes frequently remain after injury, we should demand that their test results are close to normal prior to discharge. What if you had a disease and your blood levels indicated that it was advanced and you underwent treatment and they retested your blood and found that you were better, but not normal. What would your response be? Mine would be “Is it possible to get it back to normal or is this as good as it gets?” We need to have the same attitude toward one of our largest, most expensive systems — the neuromuscular system

 So, with those concepts in mind, here is what I am now giving patients at the start of their care. This list includes most of my discharge criteria. Over the next several posts, I will go through the research regarding these tests as well as any others that are suggested. Add any tests that you think are missing below.

Not because we want to autograph our great work, but to signify that we have completed the safety checks to ensure we have removed all modifiable risk factors for injury. Why did surgeons implement signing the operative knee before surgery? As ridiculous as it sounds, the wrong knee had mistakenly been operated on. It doesn’t happen very often, but what it does, it can be catastrophic. Why should rehabilitation providers sign that they have removed all modifiable risk factors after rehabilitation?

Because we are unknowingly discharging  numerous patients with modifiable risk factors for future injury. In fact, almost certainly many more patients are being discharged with modifiable risk factors than wrong knees are being operated on — and the long-term consequences can be just as catastrophic.

Let’s hear what happened to Jane:

Jane walking with her child

Jane is a 36-years-old mother of two, whose youngest is 18 months. Since the birth of her children Jane’s priorities have shifted and she no longer gets to the gym as much as she’d like. She enjoys exercises, but with two kids and full-time job it’s hard to squeeze in a regular routine. As a result, Jane has put on few pounds, a fact that pushed her to recommit to getting back into shape despite her busy schedule.

In the course of her new workout routine, she developed hip and knee pain. She went to her physician and he diagnosed her with early onset knee osteoarthritis. How can that be, she’s only 36?

Looking back over Jane’s medical history, we discover that 20 years ago she had an ACL reconstruction, with several months of rehabilitation. Considering this prior injury, was Jane’s early onset of osteoarthritis just a natural course of the ACL tear, or was there something that could have been done differently to prevent her current condition? Let’s look at her post-operatively:

The rehabilitation provider that worked with Jane had her start with basic range of motion and strengthening and then progressed her through a myriad of exercises from low to high level. Finally, Jane was doing plyometrics (programs proven to reduce injury), running, and cutting and was ready to return to sport. Her strength and ROM looked good and so did her running and cutting. Jane said she was feeling great! So she went back to sport.

Here’s the problem: Previous injury is the most consistently reported risk factor for future injury in athletics. Here is one of my favorite injury epidemiologists summarizing his research findings:

“Looking at 70 teams, in 18 countries, over 8 seasons (9,000 injuries), we have found that previous injury is by far the greatest predictor of future injury in football.”

Jan Eckstrand
Soccer Industry Medical Symposium 2009

But what is more important is that, numerous researchers have found that modifiable risk factors remain after rehabilitation (eg. jump landing asymmetry remains 2 years after ACL reconstruction and predicts second ACL tear). If you would like to dive into that concept in more depth, check out this short video

What this means is that without standardized, systematic, and stringent return to sport and discharge testing, we are likely to discharge patients with modifiable risk factors. We MUST stop this. Since I have implemented systematic discharge and return to sport testing, I am SHOCKED to find out how frequently I am wrong — the patient appears to be normal (even by my “trained” eye) but testing reveals something completely different.

So, are you willing to sign your patient’s leg, arm or back? I am…..but in the mean time, I have to go apologize to some of my previous patients.  Fortunately, Jane is fictional but represents a large percentage of our patients.

Over the next several posts, I hope we can all discuss what the evidenced based discharge tests should be and what is considered passing. What tests do you think should be included? Post them below so we can discuss them in this forum.

About Phil

Phil Plisky

I want to change peoples lives through dialogue about creating an ideal career, injury prevention research, and return to activity testing.

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Copyright © 2013 Phil Plisky.