Physiotherapy for patients with shoulder pain in primary care: a descriptive study of diagnostic- and therapeutic management

Y. H. J. M. Karel, G. G. M. Scholten-Peeters, M. Thoomes-de Graaf, E. Duijn, J. B. van Broekhoven, B. W. Koes, A. P. Verhagen

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Background Shoulder pain is one of the three main musculoskeletal complaints and more than 50% of the patients have symptoms longer than 6 months. Until now, limited data exist about the content of physiotherapy for patients with shoulder pain in primary care. Objective Describe current physiotherapeutic diagnostic- and therapeutic management, including the use of diagnostic ultrasound, in patients with shoulder pain in primary care. Design and setting A prospective cohort study in primary care physiotherapy with a 12 week follow-up. Methods Descriptive data from physiotherapists was collected, such as: the diagnostic hypotheses after patient history and physical examination, the use of specific tests and diagnostic ultrasound, the interventions used and possible changes in treatment plan. Results Subacromial impingement syndrome was the most common hypothesis after patient history (48%) as well as physical examination (39%). Diagnostic ultrasound was used in 31% and of these patients the clinical diagnosis changed in 29%. Various interventions were used in all clinical diagnoses. After 12 weeks 41% of patients still received physiotherapy treatment. Conclusions Patients with shoulder pain in physiotherapy practice frequently show signs of subacromial impingement syndrome. The interventions used by the physiotherapists were generally in line with the guideline for subacromial impingement syndrome however a small proportion of physiotherapists used massage and tape/bracing techniques. A large proportion of patients were still receiving treatment after 12 weeks when no improvement was observed. If treatment for patients with subacromial impingement shows no benefit patients should be referred back to the general practitioner or orthopedic surgeon. Conclusions from this study might be slightly biased because of the selection of physiotherapists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-378
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Early online date28 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Care management
  • Cohort study
  • Physical therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Primary care
  • Shoulder pain


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