A combination of systematic review and clinicians' beliefs in interventions for subacromial pain

Br J Gen Pract. 2002 Feb;52(475):145-52.


The aim of the study is to determine which treatments for patients with subacromial pain are trusted by general practitioners (GPs) and physiotherapists, and to compare trusted treatments with evidence from a systematic critical review of the scientific literature. A two-step process was used: a questionnaire (written case simulation) and a systematic critical review. The questionnaire was mailed to 188 GPs and 71 physiotherapists in Sweden. The total response rate was 72% (186/259). The following treatments were trusted, ergonomics/adjustments at work, corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, movement exercises, acupuncture, ultrasound therapy, strengthening exercises, stretching, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation, and superficial heat or ice therapy. The review, including efficacy studies for the treatments found to be trusted, was conducted using the CINAHL, EMBASE and MEDLINE databases. Evidence for efficacy was recorded in relation to methodological quality and to diagnostic criteria that labelled participants as having subacromial pain or a non-specific shoulder disorder. Forty studies were included. The methodological quality varied and only one treatment had definitive evidence for efficacy for non-specific patients, namely injection of corticosteroids. The trust in corticosteroids, injected in the subacromial bursa, was supported by definitive evidence for short-term efficacy. Acupuncture had tentative evidence for short-term efficacy in patients with subacromial pain. Ultrasound therapy was ineffective for subacromial pain. This is supported by tentative evidence and, together with earlier reviews, this questions both the trust in the treatment and its use. The clinicians' trust in treatments had a weak association with available scientific evidence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Exercise Therapy / methods
  • Family Practice
  • Humans
  • Pain Management
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / therapy*
  • Shoulder Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden
  • Ultrasonography


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal