Objective: To compare the effect of acupuncture with placebo transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) when added to the exercise treatment of rotator cuff tendinitis with respect to pain, shoulder movements and function.
Design: Prospective alternate allocation controlled trial.
Setting: Outpatient department.
Patients: Thirty-three patients (12 women and 21 men) were included in the study. All had clinically diagnosed rotator cuff tendinitis.
Intervention: Both groups underwent a standardized training programme. Each patient received in addition either 10 treatments with acupuncture or placebo TENS, 1-2 times per week.
Main outcome measures: The parameters investigated were intensity of pain (measured with visual analogue scale), active, passive as well as functional movements in the shoulder (hand in neck (HIN) and pour out of a pot (POP)). Patients were tested before treatment, after treatment and at a six-month follow-up. Medicine intake, ability to lie on the affected side and sleep disturbances were evaluated. A subjective assessment was made after the treatment and at follow-up.
Results: Sixteen patients had acupuncture, 17 placebo TENS. Eight patients endured pain at rest in the placebo TENS group, and 10 in the acupuncture group. After treatment both groups improved, the improvement persisted at the six-month follow-up. Both groups increased range of movement. Except for the functional test HIN in the acupuncture group, there were no differences between the groups regarding other parameters investigated directly after treatment or at six-month follow-up.
Conclusion: There is no difference between the effect of additional acupuncture treatment and placebo TENS in the treatment of rotator cuff tendinitis.