A trial into the effectiveness of soft tissue massage in the treatment of shoulder pain

Aust J Physiother. 2003;49(3):183-8. doi: 10.1016/s0004-9514(14)60238-5.


The purpose of this single blinded randomised controlled trial was to investigate the effects of soft tissue massage on range of motion, reported pain and reported function in patients with shoulder pain. Twenty-nine patients referred to physiotherapy for shoulder pain were randomly assigned to a treatment group that received six treatments of soft tissue massage around the shoulder (n = 15) or to a control group that received no treatment while on the waiting list for two weeks (n = 14). Measurements were taken both before and after the experimental period by a blinded assessor. Active range of motion was measured for flexion, abduction and hand-behind-back movements. Pain was assessed with the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SFMPQ) and functional ability was assessed with the Patient Specific Functional Disability Measure (PSFDM). The treatment group showed significant improvements in range of motion compared with the control group for abduction (mean 42.2 degrees, 95% CI 24.1 to 60.4 degrees), flexion (mean 22.6 degrees, 95% CI 12.4 to 32.8 degrees) and hand-behind-back (mean 11.0 cm improvement, 95% CI 6.3 to 15.6 cm). Massage reduced pain as reported on the descriptive section of the SFMPQ by a mean of 4.9 points (95% CI 2.5 to 7.2 points) and on the visual analogue scale by an average of 26.5 mm (95% CI 5.3 to 47.6 mm), and it improved reported function on the PSFDM by a mean of 8.6 points (95% CI 4.9 to 12.3 points). We conclude that soft tissue massage around the shoulder is effective in improving range of motion, pain and function in patients with shoulder pain. The mechanisms behind these effects remain unclear.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massage / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Shoulder Injuries
  • Shoulder Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome