Pain management in the rehabilitation of stiff shoulder: prospective multicenter comparative study of 193 cases

Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2011 Dec;97(8 Suppl):S195-203. doi: 10.1016/j.otsr.2011.09.006. Epub 2011 Oct 28.


Introduction: The present study investigated the impact of respecting pain threshold on clinical recovery in stiff shoulder.

Patients and methods: A prospective multicenter comparative study followed up 193 cases of shoulder stiffness for a mean 12-month period (range, 8-31 months) after four different treatment protocols: (1) conventional sub-pain-threshold rehabilitation (58 cases); (2) self-rehabilitation exceeding the pain threshold (59 cases); (3) supervised suprathreshold rehabilitation (31 cases); and (4) capsulotomy with sub-threshold rehabilitation (45 cases). Follow-up was daily for the first 6 weeks then weekly for the next 6; each session included assessment of the painfulness, feasibility and duration of each rehabilitation and self-rehabilitation exercise and of pain status, disability and psychological status. The surgeon followed patients up at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year and at last follow-up.

Results: Sub-threshold rehabilitation provided progressive results, limited in time (P<0.05). Suprathreshold self-rehabilitation provided reduced pain (P<0.05) as of the first days, with nocturnal pain ceasing after 7 days' rehabilitation in 43% of cases. Supervision of self-rehabilitation exercises optimized the clinical result (P<0.05). Capsulotomy did not influence pain evolution over the first 8 weeks, but then improved it. Failure (at 1 year, 14-17%; last follow-up, 3.5%) correlated directly with the number of exercises performed by the patient (P<0.05).

Discussion: The dogma of respecting the pain threshold is dated: pain inflicted on a passive patient impairs clinical evolution, but pain managed by an informed active patient under experienced supervision provides rapid recovery of function and pain-free status.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Recovery of Function
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology
  • Shoulder Pain / diagnosis
  • Shoulder Pain / physiopathology
  • Shoulder Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult