The management of shoulder impingement and related disorders: A systematic review on diagnostic accuracy of physical tests and manual therapy efficacy

J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019 Jul;23(3):604-618. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2018.08.002. Epub 2018 Oct 25.


Background: Diagnostic accuracy of physical tests and effectiveness of musculoskeletal rehabilitation of shoulder disorders are still debated.

Objectives: To investigate diagnostic accuracy of physical tests, efficacy of physiotherapy and coherence between target of assessment and intervention for shoulder impingement and related disorders like bursitis, rotator cuff and long head biceps tendinopathy and labral lesions.

Methods: A systematic search of four databases was conducted, including RCTs and cross-sectional studies. Cochrane Risk of Bias and QUADAS-2 were adopted for critical appraisal and a narrative synthesis was undertaken.

Results: 6 RCTs and 2 cross-sectional studies were appraised. Studies presented low to moderate risk of bias. There is a lack of evidence to support the mechanical construct guiding the choice of physical tests for diagnosis of impingement. Manual techniques appear to yield better results than placebo and ultrasounds, but not better than exercise therapy alone. Discrepancy between the goal of assessment strategies and the relative proposed treatments were present together with high heterogeneity in terms of selection of patients, type of endpoints and follow-ups.

Conclusions: Musculoskeletal physiotherapy seems to be an effective treatment for patients with shoulder pain although it is still based on weak diagnostic clinical instruments. The adoption of more functional and prognostic assessment strategies is advisable to improve coherence between evaluation and treatment.

Keywords: Diagnosis; Exercise; Musculoskeletal; Physical test; Rotator cuff; Shoulder.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bursitis / diagnosis
  • Bursitis / therapy
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations / methods*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / diagnosis
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / therapy
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome / therapy*
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology
  • Shoulder Pain / diagnosis*
  • Shoulder Pain / etiology
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy*
  • Tendinopathy / diagnosis
  • Tendinopathy / therapy