Kuhn JE. Exercise in the treatment of rotator cuff impingement: a systematic review and a synthesized evidence-based rehabilitation protocol. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2009;18(1):138–160.
What is the role of exercise in the treatment of rotator cuff impingement syndrome (RCIS), and what evidence-based exercises can be synthesized into a criterion-standard exercise rehabilitation protocol?
Investigations were identified by PubMed, Ovid, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, American College of Physicians Journal Club, and Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects. The search terms included shoulder, impingement, rotator cuff, rehabilitation, physical therapy, physiotherapy, and exercise. Additional searches were performed with bibliographies of retrieved studies.
To qualify for inclusion, studies had to be level 1 or level 2 (randomized controlled trials); had to compare rehabilitation interventions, such as exercise or manual therapy, with other treatments or placebo; had to include validated outcome measures of pain, function, or disability; and had to be limited to individuals with diagnosed impingement syndrome. Impingement syndrome was determined by a positive impingement sign per Neer or Hawkins criteria, or both. Articles were excluded if they addressed other shoulder conditions (eg, calcific tendinosis, full-thickness rotator cuff tears, adhesive capsulitis, osteoarthritis), addressed postoperative management, were retrospective studies or case series, or used other outcome measures.
An evidence-based journal club of 9 faculty members and fellows reviewed the articles and extracted and tabulated the data. Individual outcomes for pain, range of motion (ROM), strength, and function were organized. Intragroup and between-groups outcomes were assessed for the effectiveness of treatment, and statistical outcomes were recorded when available. Clinical importance was determined when statistical value was P < .05 and the effect size or difference between treatments was 20% or more. Sixa major categories were created to organize the components of the physical therapy programs used in each study: ROM, flexibility and stretching, strengthening techniques, therapist-driven manual therapy, modalities, and schedule. Components from these categories were used to create a synthesized physical therapy program.
The searches identified 80 studies, of which 11 met the inclusion criteria. In 5 studies, the diagnosis of RCIS was confirmed using an impingement test consisting of lidocaine injected into the subacromial space and elimination of pain with the impingement sign. Randomization methods were used in 6 studies, and blinded, independent examiners were involved in follow-up data collection in only 3 studies. Validated outcome measures were used in all studies. Follow-up was very good in 10 studies and was less than 90% in only 1 study. The specific exercise programs varied among studies. However, general treatment principles were identified among the different studies and included frequency, ROM, stretching or flexibility, strengthening, manual therapy (joint and/or soft tissue mobilizations), modalities, and others.
The findings indicated that exercise improves outcomes of pain, strength, ROM impairments, and function in patients with impingement syndrome. In 10 studies, investigators reported improvements in pain with supervised exercise, home exercise, exercise associated with manual therapy, and exercise after subacromial decompression. Of the 6 studies in which researchers compared pre-exercise pain with postexercise pain, 5 demonstrated that exercise produced statistically significant and clinically important reductions in pain. Two studies demonstrated improvements in pain when comparing exercise and control groups. In 1 study, investigators evaluated bracing without exercise and found no difference in pain between the brace and exercise groups. Investigators evaluated exercise combined with manual therapy in 3 studies and demonstrated improvement in pain relief in each study and improvement in strength in 1 study. In most studies, exercise also was shown to improve function. The improvement in function was statistically significant in 4 studies and clinically meaningful in 2 of these studies. In 2 studies, researchers compared supervised exercise with a home exercise program and found that function improved in both groups but was not different between groups. This finding might have resulted from a type II statistical error. In 4 studies, researchers did not find differences between acromioplasty with exercise and exercise alone for pain alone or for outcomes of pain and function.
Findings indicated that exercise is beneficial for reducing pain and improving function in individuals with RCIS. The effects of exercise might be augmented with implementation of manual therapy. In addition, supervised exercise might not be more effective than a home exercise program. Many articles had methodologic concerns and provided limited descriptions of specific exercises, which made comparing types of exercise among studies difficult. Based on the results, Kuhn generated a physical therapy protocol using evidence-based exercise that could be used by clinicians treating individuals with impingement syndrome. This evidence-based protocol can serve as the criterion standard to reduce variables in future cohort and comparative studies to help find better treatments for patients with this disorder.