Shoulder External Rotator Eccentric Training Versus General Shoulder Exercise for Subacromial Pain Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Shoulder pain affects up to 67% of the population at some point in their lifetime with subacromial pain syndrome (SAPS) representing a common etiology. Despite a plethora of studies there remains conflicting evidence for appropriate management of SAPS.


To compare outcomes, for individuals diagnosed with SAPS, performing a 6-week protocol of eccentric training of the shoulder external rotators (ETER) compared to a general exercise (GE) protocol.


Randomized controlled trial.


Forty-eight individuals (mean age 46.8 years + /-17.29) with chronic shoulder pain, and a clinical diagnosis of SAPS were randomized into either an experimental group performing ETER or a control group performing a GE program. The intervention lasted for six weeks, and outcomes were measured after three weeks, six weeks, and again at six months post intervention.


The primary outcome of function, measured by the Western Ontario Rotator Cuff Index, demonstrated a significant interaction effect derived from a multilevel hierarchical model accounting for repeated measures favoring the experimental group at week 3: 14.65 (p=.003), Week 6: 17.04 (p<.001) and six months: 15.12 (p=.007). After six months, secondary outcome measures were improved for Numeric Pain Rating Scale levels representing pain at worst (p=.006) and pain on average (p=0.02), external rotator (p<.001), internal rotator (p=0.02), and abductor strength (p<.001). There were no statistically significant differences in secondary outcome measures of Global Rating of Change, Active Range of Motion, the Upper Quarter Y Balance Test and strength ratios after six months.


An eccentric program targeting the external rotators was superior to a general exercise program for strength, pain, and function after six months. The findings suggest eccentric training may be efficacious to improve self-report function and strength for those with SAPS.