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Preoperative muscle weakness as defined by handgrip strength and postoperative outcomes: a systematic review

Pervez Sultan1, Mark A Hamilton2 and Gareth L Ackland34*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesia, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, California 94305, USA

2 Anaesthesia and Critical Care, St Georges Hospital NHS Trust, London, UK

3 Centre for Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Management, University College London, London, UK

4 Department of Medicine, University College London, London, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Anesthesiology 2012, 12:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2253-12-1

Published: 17 January 2012



Reduced muscle strength- commonly characterized by decreased handgrip strength compared to population norms- is associated with numerous untoward outcomes. Preoperative handgrip strength is a potentially attractive real-time, non-invasive, cheap and easy-to-perform "bedside" assessment tool. Using systematic review procedure, we investigated whether preoperative handgrip strength was associated with postoperative outcomes in adults undergoing surgery.


PRISMA and MOOSE consensus guidelines for reporting systematic reviews were followed. MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Clinical Trials (1980-2010) were systematically searched by two independent reviewers. The selection criteria were limited to include studies of preoperative handgrip strength in human adults undergoing non-emergency, cardiac and non-cardiac surgery. Study procedural quality was analysed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Quality Assessment score. The outcomes assessed were postoperative morbidity, mortality and hospital stay.


Nineteen clinical studies (17 prospective; 4 in urgent surgery) comprising 2194 patients were identified between1980-2010. Impaired handgrip strength and postoperative morbidity were defined inconsistently between studies. Only 2 studies explicitly ensured investigators collecting postoperative outcomes data were blinded to preoperative handgrip strength test results. The heterogeneity of study design used and the diversity of surgical procedures precluded formal meta-analysis. Despite the moderate quality of these observational studies, lower handgrip strength was associated with increased morbidity (n = 10 studies), mortality (n = 2/5 studies) and length of hospital stay (n = 3/7 studies).


Impaired preoperative handgrip strength may be associated with poorer postoperative outcomes, but further work exploring its predictive power is warranted using prospectively acquired, objectively defined measures of postoperative morbidity.