Effectiveness of Adding a Large Dose of Shoulder Strengthening to Current Nonoperative Care for Subacromial Impingement: A Pragmatic, Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial (SExSI Trial)

Am J Sports Med. 2021 Sep;49(11):3040-3049. doi: 10.1177/03635465211016008. Epub 2021 May 28.


Background: A strong recommendation against subacromial decompression surgery was issued in 2019. This leaves nonoperative care as the only treatment option, but recent studies suggest that the dose of strengthening exercise is not sufficient in current nonoperative care. At this point, it is unknown if adding more strengthening to current nonoperative care is of clinical value.

Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of adding a large dose of shoulder strengthening to current nonoperative care for subacromial impingement compared with usual care alone.

Study design: Randomized controlled trial; Level of evidence, 1.

Methods: In this double-blinded, pragmatic randomized controlled trial, we randomly allocated 200 consecutive patients referred to orthopaedic shoulder specialist care for long-standing shoulder pain (>3 months), aged 18 to 65 years and diagnosed with subacromial impingement using validated criteria, to the intervention group (IG) or control group (CG). Outcome assessors were blinded, and participants were blinded to the study hypothesis as well as to the treatment method in the other group. The CG received usual nonoperative care; the IG underwent the same plus an add-on intervention designed to at least double the total dose of shoulder strengthening. The primary outcome was the Shoulder Pain and Disability Index (SPADI; 0-100) at 4-month follow-up, with 10 points defined as the minimal clinically important difference. Secondary outcomes included shoulder strength, range of motion, health-related quality of life, and the Patient Acceptable Symptom State (PASS).

Results: Intention-to-treat and per-protocol analyses showed no significant or clinically relevant between-group differences for any outcome. From baseline to 4-month follow-up, SPADI scores improved in both groups (intention-to-treat analysis; IG, -22.1 points; CG, -22.7 points; between-group mean difference, 0.6 points [95% CI, -5.5 to 6.6]). At 4 months after randomization, only 54% of the IG and 48% of the CG (P = .4127) reached the PASS. No serious adverse events were reported.

Conclusion: Adding a large dose of shoulder strengthening to current nonoperative care for patients with subacromial impingement did not result in superior shoulder-specific patient-reported outcomes. Moreover, approximately half of all randomized patients did not achieve the PASS after 4 months of nonoperative care, leaving many of these patients with unacceptable symptoms. This study showed that adding more exercise is not a viable solution to this problem.

Registration: NCT02747251 (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier).

Keywords: physical therapy; randomized controlled trial; resistance training; rotator cuff; shoulder pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Double-Blind Method
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome* / therapy
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy
  • Shoulder*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02747251