Background: Chronic rotator cuff pathology (CRCP) is a common shoulder condition causing pain and disability. Physiotherapy is often the first line of management for CRCP yet there is little conclusive evidence to support or refute its effectiveness and no formal evaluation of its cost-effectiveness.
Methods/design: This randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial will involve 200 participants with CRCP recruited from medical practices, outpatient departments and the community via print and radio media. Participants will be randomly allocated to a physiotherapy or placebo group using concealed allocation stratified by treating physiotherapist. Both groups will receive 10 sessions of individual standardised treatment over 10 weeks from one of 10 project physiotherapists. For the following 12 weeks, the physiotherapy group will continue a home exercise program and the placebo group will receive no treatment. The physiotherapy program will comprise shoulder joint and spinal mobilisation, soft tissue massage, postural taping, and home exercises for scapular control, posture and rotator cuff strengthening. The placebo group will receive inactive ultrasound and gentle application of an inert gel over the shoulder region. Blinded assessment will be conducted at baseline and at 10 weeks and 22 weeks after randomisation. The primary outcome measures are self reported questionnaires including the shoulder pain and disability index (SPADI), average pain on an 11-point numeric rating scale and participant perceived global rating of change. Secondary measures include Medical Outcomes Study 36-item short form (SF-36), Assessment of Quality of Life index, numeric rating scales for shoulder pain and stiffness, participant perceived rating of change for pain, strength and stiffness, and manual muscle testing for shoulder strength using a handheld dynamometer. To evaluate cost-effectiveness, participants will record the use of all health-related treatments in a log-book returned to the assessor monthly. To test the effect of the intervention using an intention-to-treat analysis, linear regression modelling will be applied adjusting for baseline outcome values and other demographic characteristics. Participant measures of perceived change will be compared between groups by calculating the relative risks and their 95% confidence intervals at each time point using log binomial regression.
Discussion: Results from this trial will contribute to the evidence regarding the effectiveness of a physiotherapy program for the management of CRCP.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00415441.