Effect of scapular function training on chronic pain in the neck/shoulder region: a randomized controlled trial

J Occup Rehabil. 2014 Jun;24(2):316-24. doi: 10.1007/s10926-013-9441-1.


Purpose: Neck and shoulder complaints are common among employees in occupations characterized by intensive computer use. Treatment has varied from passive rest to active treatments and active treatments have often been divided into either training of the painful area or the surrounding musculature avoiding direct training of the painful area. Our study investigates the effect of the latter approach. The purpose of this study was in a randomised controlled trial to investigate if intensive scapular function training (SFT)-in terms of training of the lower trapezius and the serratus anterior muscle while minimizing direct training of the upper trapezius-is effective in reducing pain in adults with chronic non-specific pain in the neck/shoulder region.

Methods: 47 office workers with chronic non-specific pain in the neck/shoulder region were randomized to 10 weeks 3 × 20 min SFT with training supervision or to a control group. At baseline and at follow-up the participants were tested for maximum isometric shoulder strength by a blinded tester. Further, once a week participants reported pain intensity of the neck/shoulder during the previous week.

Results: In intention-to-treat analysis neck- and shoulder pain decreased 2.0 (95 % CI 0.35; 3.64) in SFT compared with control group (p < 0.05). Pressure Pain Threshold (PPT) increased 129 kPa in the lower trapezius in SFT compared with the control group (p < 0.01). Shoulder elevation strength increased 7.7 kg in SFT compared with the control group (p < 0.01) with no change in shoulder protraction strength.

Conclusions: SFT reduces pain intensity and increases shoulder elevation strength in adults with chronic non-specific pain in the neck/shoulder region. The magnitude of improvement in pain intensity was clinically relevant.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention to Treat Analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength
  • Neck Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Occupational Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold
  • Patient Compliance
  • Resistance Training
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Shoulder Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Superficial Back Muscles / physiopathology*