Can the majority of shoulder surgery be avoided?

Published: 9th October, 2017

Do you struggle with shoulder pain, or have you ever been told you have “shoulder impingement”?

If so, it is likely you will have been referred to a Physiotherapist. Physiotherapy is very beneficial in the treatment of shoulder pain, particularly “shoulder impingement”, otherwise known as subacromial pain. Subacromial pain refers to when the tendons of the rotator cuff muscle group, become irritated and inflamed as they pass through the space in your shoulder joint. In some rare cases, you may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon to assess your need for surgery. The number of operations for subacromial pain has continued to increase, even though Physiotherapy is proven to be just as effective, if not more effective than the surgical route.

A recent study took patients who were on the waiting list for shoulder surgery, and gave them a 3-month course of Physiotherapy to see if their surgery could be avoided. Most of the patients had previously had a course of Physiotherapy and injections prior to being put on the waiting list for surgery.

In the study, the subjects were treated with a specific, individualised course of exercises that were progressed depending on the person’s movement, pain and function. The Physiotherapist worked closely with these people to ensure the exercises were carried out correctly and suitably progressed.

After 3 months of shoulder rehabilitation by a Physiotherapist, only 24% of patients decided to go ahead with their surgery. In this small study group, over three-quarters of shoulder surgery was avoided, just by undertaking specific shoulder Physiotherapy. In addition to this, the patients’ range of movement, activities of daily living and pain severity had all improved, and this was maintained when the subjects were re-examined a year later.

Occasionally shoulder surgery is necessary, but even if you have been told you need to go ‘under the knife’, there may be another solution.

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