Objective: Assessment of the long-term course of shoulder complaints in patients in general practice with special focus on changes in diagnostic category and fluctuations in the severity of the complaints.
Design: Prospective descriptive study.
Setting: Four general practices in The Netherlands.
Method: All patients (101) with shoulder complaints seen in a 5 month period were included. Assessment took place 26 weeks and 12-18 months after inclusion in the study with a pain questionnaire and a physical examination.
Results: A total of 51% of the patients experienced (mostly recurrent) complaints after 26 weeks and 41% after 12-18 months. Diagnostic changes were found over the course of time, mostly from synovial disorders towards functional disorders of the structures of the shoulder girdle, but also the other way round. Although 52 of the 101 patients experienced complaints in week 26, 62% of those patients considered themselves 'cured'. After 12-18 months, 51% of the 39 patients experiencing complaints felt 'cured'.
Conclusion: Many patients seen with shoulder complaints in general practice have recurrent complaints. The nature of these complaints varies considerably over the course of time, leading to changes in diagnostic category. Because of the fluctuating severity of the complaints over time, feeling 'cured' or not 'cured' is also subject to change over time.