Passive Straight Leg Raise Test: Definition, Interpretation, Limitations and Utilization

Members of the College of Family Physicians of Canada may claim one non-certified credit per hour for this non-certified educational program.

Mainpro+® Overview

Dr. Hamilton Hall, MD, FRCSC, is a Professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto. He is the Medical Director, CBI Health Group and Executive Director of the Canadian Spine Society in Toronto, Ontario.
Greg McIntosh, MSc, completed his Masters in Epidemiology from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine. He is currently the Director of Clinical Research for CBI Health Group and research consultant to the Canadian Spine Society.

This article highlights the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the straight leg raise (SLR) test for sciatica. Unfortunately, neither intra- nor inter-observer reliability of the passive SLR test has ever been agreed upon. In addition, there is poor consensus about what constitutes a positive SLR test in terms of pain location, leg elevation limitation or clinical significance. Until there are stricter performance standards and uniform agreement, researchers and clinicians should interpret the test with caution. We believe a true positive SLR should be the reproduction or exacerbation of the typical leg dominant pain in the affected limb at any degree of passive elevation. Those with only increased back pain or any leg pain other than that presenting as the chief complaint should be regarded as false positives.
Key Words: low back pain, straight leg raise, sciatica, irritative test.