The efficacy of manual therapy for rotator cuff tendinopathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 May;45(5):330-50. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2015.5455. Epub 2015 Mar 26.


Study design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Objectives: To evaluate the efficacy of manual therapy (MT) for patients with rotator cuff (RC) tendinopathy.

Background: Rotator cuff tendinopathy is a highly prevalent musculoskeletal disorder, for which MT is a common intervention used by physical therapists. However, evidence regarding the efficacy of MT is inconclusive.

Methods: A literature search using terms related to shoulder, RC tendinopathy, and MT was conducted in 4 databases to identify randomized controlled trials that compared MT to any other type of intervention to treat RC tendinopathy. Randomized controlled trials were assessed with the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool. Meta-analyses or qualitative syntheses of evidence were performed.

Results: Twenty-one studies were included. The majority had a high risk of bias. Only 5 studies had a score of 69% or greater, indicating a moderate to low risk of bias. A small but statistically significant overall effect for pain reduction of MT compared with a placebo or in addition to another intervention was observed (n = 406), which may or may not be clinically important, given a mean difference of 1.1 (95% confidence interval: 0.6, 1.6) on a 10-cm visual analog scale. Adding MT to an exercise program (n = 226) significantly decreased pain (mean difference, 1.0; 95% confidence interval: 0.7, 1.4), as reported on a 10-cm visual analog scale, which may or may not be clinically important. Based on qualitative analyses, it is unclear whether MT used alone or added to an exercise program improves function.

Conclusion: For patients with RC tendinopathy, based on low- to moderate-quality evidence, MT may decrease pain; however, it is unclear whether it can improve function. More methodologically sound studies are needed to make definitive conclusions.

Level of evidence: Therapy, level 1a-.

Keywords: mobilization; physical therapy; shoulder impingement syndrome; shoulder pain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rotator Cuff*
  • Tendinopathy / therapy*