Does the addition of motor control or strengthening exercises to education result in better outcomes for rotator cuff-related shoulder pain? A multiarm randomised controlled trial

Br J Sports Med. 2023 Apr;57(8):457-463. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105027. Epub 2023 Feb 16.


Objective: To compare the short-term, mid-term and long-term effects between three interventions (education only, education and strengthening exercises, education and motor control exercises) for rotator cuff-related shoulder pain (RCRSP) on symptoms and function.

Methods: 123 adults presenting with RCRSP took part in a 12-week intervention. They were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 intervention groups. Symptoms and function were evaluated at baseline and at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks and 24 weeks using the Disability of Arm, Shoulder and Hand Questionnaire (QuickDASH) (primary outcome) and Western Ontario Rotator Cuff Index (WORC). Linear mixed modelling was used to compare the effects of the three programmes on the outcomes.

Results: After 24 weeks, between-group differences were -2.1 (-7.7 to 3.5) (motor control vs education), 1.2 (-4.9 to 7.4) (strengthening vs education) and -3.3 (-9.5 to 2.8) (motor control vs strengthening) for the QuickDASH and 9.3 (1.5 to 17.1) (motor control vs education), 1.3 (-7.6 to 10.2) (strengthening vs education) and 8.0 (-0.5 to 16.5) (motor control vs strengthening) for the WORC. There was a significant group-by-time interaction (p=0.04) with QuickDASH, but follow-up analyses did not reveal any clinically meaningful between-group differences. There was no significant group-by-time interaction (p=0.39) for the WORC. Between-group differences never exceeded the minimal clinically important difference of QuickDASH or WORC.

Conclusion: In people with RCRSP, the addition of motor control or strengthening exercises to education did not lead to larger improvements in symptoms and function compared with education alone. Further research should investigate the value of providing stepped care by identifying individuals who may only need education and those who would benefit from the addition of motor control or strengthening exercises.

Trial registration number: NCT03892603.

Keywords: education; exercises; rehabilitation; rotator cuff; shoulder.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries* / therapy
  • Rotator Cuff*
  • Shoulder
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data