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Clinical approaches like mobilization, stretching, and/or massage may decrease shoulder tightness and improve symptoms in subjects with stiff shoulders. We investigated the effect and predictors of effectiveness of massage in the treatment of patients with posterior shoulder tightness.
A randomized controlled trial was conducted in a hospital-based outpatient practice (orthopedic and rehabilitation). Forty-three women and 17 men (mean age = 54 years, range 43-73 years) with posterior shoulder tightness participated and were randomized into massage and control groups (n = 30 per group). A physical therapist provided the massage on the posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, and teres minor of the involved shoulder for 18 minutes [about 6 minutes for each muscle] two times a week for 4 weeks. For the control group, one therapist applied light hand touch on the muscles 10 minutes two times a week for 4 weeks. Glenohumeral internal rotation ROM, functional status, and muscle tightness were the main outcomes. Additionally, the potential factors on the effectiveness of massage were analyzed by multivariate logistic regression. For this analysis, patients with functional score improvement at least 20% after massage were considered responsive, and the others were considered nonresponsive.
Fifty-two patients completed the study (29 for the massage and 23 for the control). The overall mean internal rotation ROM increased significantly in the massage group compared to the control (54.9° v.s. 34.9°; P ≤ 0.001). There were 21 patients in the responsive group and 8 in the nonresponsive group. Among the factors, duration of symptoms, functional score, and posterior deltoid tightness were significant predictors of effectiveness of massage.
Massage was an effective treatment for patients with posterior shoulder tightness, but was less effective in patients with longer duration of symptoms, higher functional limitation, and less posterior deltoid tightness.
This clinical trial is registered at Trial Registration "Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT01022827".