Does the outcome of diagnostic ultrasound influence the treatment modalities and recovery in patients with shoulder pain in physiotherapy practice? Results from a prospective cohort study

Musculoskelet Sci Pract. 2019 Jun:41:28-35. doi: 10.1016/j.msksp.2019.03.003. Epub 2019 Mar 19.


Study design: Prospective cohort study including patients with shoulder pain in primary care physiotherapy.

Background: There is an increased tendency to use diagnostic ultrasound to aid the diagnostic strategy and target treatment. It is a relatively cheap and accessible imaging technique but the implications for practice and patients are unknown.

Objectives: To study the influence of diagnostic ultrasound (DUS) on diagnostic work-up, treatment modalities and recovery.

Methods: Participants (n = 389) with a new episode of shoulder pain were assessed at baseline and followed for 6, 12 and 26 weeks. Diagnostic work-up, including the use of DUS, and treatment strategies were reported by the therapists at 3, 6 and 12 weeks.

Results: Most patients (41%) were diagnosed with subacromial impingement/pain syndrome after physical examination or DUS. DUS was used in 31% of the participants. Tendinopathy was the most found abnormality in this sub-population. Patients who underwent DUS were more frequently treated using exercise therapy. Patients that not had DUS were more likely to receive massage therapy, trigger point therapy or mobilisation techniques. Logistic regression analyses did not show a significant association between DUS and recovery after 26 weeks (0.88, 95%CI:0.50-1.57). Correcting for the therapist as a confounder using a multilevel binary logistic regression did not show a significant cluster effect.

Conclusion: Diagnostic US as a work-up component does not seem to influence diagnosis or recovery but does influence the choice of treatment modality. Conclusions are limited to observational data. High quality randomized trials should study the effect of DUS on recovery.

Keywords: Diagnostic tool; Diagnostic ultrasound; Musculoskeletal conditions; Musculoskeletal ultrasound; Physical therapist.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / therapy*
  • Shoulder Pain / diagnosis*
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy*
  • Tendinopathy / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ultrasonography / methods*