Gowers’ sign is a screening test for muscle weakness, typically seen in Duchenne muscular dystrophy but also seen in numerous other conditions. The mildest presentations and the variations of Gowers’ sign are poorly described in the literature but are important to recognize to help with early diagnosis of a neuromuscular problem.
We therefore (1) defined the characteristics of the mildest forms and the compensatory mechanism used, (2) categorized the spectrum of this sign as seen in various neuromuscular diseases, and (3) provide educational videos for clinicians.
We videotaped 33 patients with Gowers’ sign and three healthy children. Weakness was categorized as: mild = prolonged or rise using single-hand action; moderate = forming prone crawl position and using one or two hands on thigh; severe = more than two thigh maneuvers, rising with additional aid, or unable to rise.
The earliest changes were exaggerated torso flexion, wide base, and equinus posturing, which reduce hip extension moment, keep forces anterior to the knee, and improve balance. Patients with moderate weakness have wide hip abduction, shifts in pelvic tilt, and lordosis, which reduce knee extension moment, improve hamstrings moment arm, and aide truncal extension. The classic Gowers’ sign (severe) exaggerates all mechanisms.
The classically described Gowers’ sign is usually a late finding. However more subtle forms of Gowers’ sign including mild hand pressure against the thigh and prone crawl position should be recognized by clinicians to initiate additional diagnostic tests.
Level of Evidence
Level III, diagnostic study. See the Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
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Each author certifies that he or she, or a member of their immediate family, has no commercial associations (eg, consultancies, stock ownership, equity interest, patent/licensing arrangements, etc) that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with the submitted article.
All ICMJE Conflict of Interest Forms for authors and Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research editors and board members are on file with the publication and can be viewed on request.
Each author certifies that his or her institution approved the human protocol for this investigation, that all investigations were conducted in conformity with ethical principles of research.
This study was performed at Rady Children’s Hospital and Health Center.
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Chang, R.F., Mubarak, S.J. Pathomechanics of Gowers’ Sign: A Video Analysis of a Spectrum of Gowers’ Maneuvers. Clin Orthop Relat Res 470, 1987–1991 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11999-011-2210-6
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Spinal Muscular Atrophy
- Pelvic Tilt
- Neuromuscular Disease
- Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy