A randomized controlled single-blinded comparison of stretching versus stretching and joint mobilization for posterior shoulder tightness measured by internal rotation motion loss

Sports Health. 2010 Mar;2(2):94-100. doi: 10.1177/1941738109347775.


Background: Posterior shoulder tightness, as demonstrated by limited internal rotation range of motion, is a suggested factor in many shoulder pathologies. Methods to increase posterior shoulder mobility may be beneficial.

Hypothesis: Shoulder internal rotation range of motion will not change with either of 2 interventions: cross-body stretch alone and cross-body stretch plus posterior capsule joint mobilization.

Study design: Randomized controlled single-blinded clinical trial.

Methods: The study comprised 39 college-age asymptomatic participants (7 men, 32 women) who were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: stretching only (n, 20) and stretching plus posterior joint mobilizations (n, 19). All had a between-shoulder difference of internal rotation of 10° or more. Shoulder internal and external rotation was measured before and after a 4-week intervention period and 4 weeks postintervention. Participants in the stretching-only group performed the cross-body stretch on the limited side. Those in the other group (cross-body stretch plus joint mobilization) were treated with posterior joint mobilization techniques on the limited side.

Results: Overall means for internal rotation of the treated shoulders significantly increased over baseline at the end of the intervention period and at 4 weeks postintervention. External rotation in all shoulders remained unchanged. By the end of intervention, total motion increased significantly from baseline but decreased significantly from the end of intervention to 4 weeks postintervention. Although not statistically significant, the second group (cross-body stretch plus joint mobilization) had greater increases in internal rotation. At 4 weeks postintervention, the second group had maintained its internal rotation gains to a greater degree than those of the stretching-only group.

Conclusion: Internal rotation increased in both groups. Inclusion of joint mobilization in a rehabilitation program created trends toward increased shoulder internal rotation mobility.

Clinical relevance: Both methods-cross-body stretch and cross-body stretch plus joint mobilization-may be beneficial for those with limited internal rotation range of motion.

Keywords: joint mobilization; randomized controlled trial; shoulder; stretching.