Objective: To compare two different rehabilitation strategies, primary passive motion versus early isometric loading of the rotator cuff.
Design: Prospective randomized controlled observer-blinded pilot study.
Setting: Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Subjects: Thirty patients after rotator cuff surgery.
Intervention: All participants were randomly assigned to one of the two outpatient treatment groups: primary passive motion versus early isometric loading of the rotator cuff. Both groups were treated for 12 weeks and performed additionally a home exercise program.
Main measures: The primary outcome measure for functional assessment was the Constant Murley score. The secondary outcome measures were the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand score (DASH), active range of motion, pain level and strength. Patients were assessed before, 6, 12 and 24 weeks after surgery.
Results: Repeatedly measured metric variables were compared by the Quade rank analysis of covariance and revealed substantially better Constant Murley scores in the early activated group at all 3 assessments (6 weeks: 41 [31;45] versus 30 [23;37]; 12 weeks: 68 [56;77] versus 59 [53;62]; 24 weeks: 79 [76;81] versus 66 [62;74]; data as median [25%;75%]). Postoperative changes of Constant score were in favour of the active group with the biggest difference at week 12 (28 [38;12] versus 9 [27;-4]). Maximal pain levels showed clear more reduction 6 and 24 weeks after surgery in the early activated group.
Conclusions: This pilot study with early isometric loading of the rotator cuff shows better function and less maximal pain. Further research is warranted to confirm our results.
Keywords: Graded exercise therapy; early rehabilitation; functional restoration programme; isometric contraction; rotator cuff.