Study design: A prospective randomized clinical trial.
Objective: To compare the effectiveness of 2 physical therapy treatment approaches for impingement syndrome of the shoulder.
Background: Manual physical therapy combined with exercise is a commonly applied but currently unproven clinical treatment for impingement syndrome of the shoulder.
Methods and measures: Thirty men and 22 women (age 43 years +/- 9.1) diagnosed with shoulder impingement syndrome were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 treatment groups. The exercise group performed supervised flexibility and strengthening exercises. The manual therapy group performed the same program and received manual physical therapy treatment. Both groups received the selected intervention 6 times over a 3-week period. The testers, who were blinded to group assignment, measured strength, pain, and function before treatment and after 6 physical therapy visits. Strength was a composite score of isometric strength tests for internal rotation, external rotation, and abduction. Pain was a composite score of visual analog scale measures during resisted break tests, active abduction, and functional activities. Function was measured with a functional assessment questionnaire. The visual analog scale used to measure pain with functional activities and the functional assessment questionnaire were also measured 2 months after the initiation of treatment.
Results: Subjects in both groups experienced significant decreases in pain and increases in function, but there was significantly more improvement in the manual therapy group compared to the exercise group. For example, pain in the manual therapy group was reduced from a pretreatment mean (+/- SD) of 575.8 (+/- 220.0) to a posttreatment mean of 174.4 (+/- 183.1). In contrast, pain in the exercise group was reduced from a pretreatment mean of 557.1 (+/- 237.2) to a posttreatment mean of 360.6 (+/- 272.3). Strength in the manual therapy group improved significantly while strength in the exercise group did not.
Conclusion: Manual physical therapy applied by experienced physical therapists combined with supervised exercise in a brief clinical trial is better than exercise alone for increasing strength, decreasing pain, and improving function in patients with shoulder impingement syndrome.