Background: Shoulder pain is a common problem after spinal cord injury (SCI), with negative effects on daily activities and quality of life (QOL).
Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of an exercise program and instruction to optimize performance of upper-extremity tasks on shoulder pain in people with paraplegia from SCI.
Methods: Design Eighty individuals with paraplegia from SCI and shoulder pain were randomly assigned to receive either an exercise/movement optimization intervention or an attention control intervention. The exercise/movement optimization intervention consisted of a 12-week home-based program of shoulder strengthening and stretching exercises, along with recommendations on how to optimize the movement technique of transfers, raises, and wheelchair propulsion. The attention control group viewed a 1-hour educational video. Outcome measures of shoulder pain, muscle strength (force-generating capacity), activity, and QOL were assessed at baseline, immediately after intervention, and 4 weeks later.
Results: Shoulder pain, as measured with the Wheelchair User's Shoulder Pain Index, decreased to one third of baseline levels after the intervention in the exercise/movement optimization group, but remained unchanged in the attention control group. Shoulder torques, most 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey questionnaire (SF-36) subscale scores, and QOL scores also were improved in the exercise/movement optimization group, but not in the attention control group. Improvements were maintained at the 4-week follow-up assessment. Limitations Many of the outcome measures were self-reported, and the participant dropout rate was high in both groups. Additional studies are needed to determine whether the results of this study can be generalized to individuals with tetraplegia.
Conclusions: This home-based intervention was effective in reducing long-standing shoulder pain in people with SCI. The reduction in pain was associated with improvements in muscle strength and health-related and overall QOL.