The Effectiveness of Physiotherapy Exercises in Subacromial Impingement Syndrome

shoulder pain

As MSK elves we already know shoulder pain is one of the most common presenting musculoskeletal conditions accounting for between 7 -26% of general practitioner consultations in the UK.

There are a variety of causes of shoulder pain and some of our previous blogs have discussed challenges to developing an acurate diagnosis. Once we have our appropriately reasoned diagnosis the next step is to choose what treatment modality to use. What evidence is there for our choice of treatment, especially exercises? There are several factors to consider when prescribing exercises; target tissue, frequency, loaded or unloaded, number of repetitions and progression of exercises. A recent systematic review focuses on physiotherapy exercises for subacromial impingement syndrome (SAIS) let’s look at it in more detail and examine the evidence.

Here’s what they did

searching folders

They searched for studies using any mode of exercise for the management of stage I or stage II SAIS or rotator cuff disease/tendinopathy

They searched elctronic databases for studies that used any mode of exercise for the management of stage I or stage II SAIS or rotator cuff disease/tendinopathy. They excluded studies that contained participants with alternative diagnoses for example rotator cuff rupture or post surgical patients or if exercise made up only a small portion of the treatment modalities used. Sixteen studies were included in the systematic review with 6 included in the meta-analysis.

Here’s what they found

From the qualitative synthesis of the data in the 16 selected studies the authors made the following three informed observations.

  1. Overall there was evidence to show that exercise was effective in reducing pain and improving function in the 6 -12 week time period.
  2. There was strong evidence that improvement in function was maintained at long term follow-up.
  3. There was moderate evidence to show that exercise can improve mental health and strength in the short term.

Data from six studies were used for the meta-analysis.

  • Exercise had a small positive effect on strength of the rotator cuff in the short term (SMD −0.46 (−0.76, 0.16); P = 0.003)
  • Exercise had a small positive effect on long-term function (SMD −0.31 (−0.57, 0.04); P = 0.02).

The authors concluded

Physiotherapy exercises are effective in the management of SAIS.

The Musculoskeletal Elf’s view

The Musculoskeletal Elf

It would be great if there was a set prescription of exercises for patients with shoulder impingement syndrome but as Lewis (2009) points out the use of subacromial impingement as a term is not accurate or specific enough as pain related to subacromial impingement can originate from a number of coexisting pathologies.

The authors of this systematic review stated that heterogeneity of the exercise interventions, coupled with poor reporting of exercise protocols, prevented conclusions being drawn about which specific components of the exercise protocols (ie, type, intensity, frequency and duration) are associated with best outcomes.

The authors also excluded studies from the meta-anaylsis because of high risk of bias/scoring less than 6/12 on the van Tulder Scale. The MSK Elf assesses risk of bias using the Cochrane Collaboration’s ‘Risk of bias’ tool (Higgins 2011). We typically look at the following six key domains: sequence generation; allocation concealment; blinding; incomplete outcome data; selective outcome reporting; and “other bias” (comparability of treatment and control group at entry, and appropriateness of duration of surveillance).

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Tracey Howe

Hi I am Tracey Howe. I am a Professor of Rehabilitation Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK and Deputy Chair of Glasgow City of Science. I am also an editor for the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group and a convenor for the Cochrane Health Care of Older People Field. I am a Trustee of the Picker Institute Europe. I started my career as a physiotherapist in the National Health Service in England. I have extensive experience of assessing the quality of research in Universities in the UK and internationally. I enjoy strategic visioning, creative problem-solving, and creating vibrant, multi-disciplinary environments, through collaboration, partnerships, and relationships, that empower others to succeed.

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