Rotator cuff related shoulder pain (RCSP) is common with a range of conservative treatments currently offered. Evidence supporting superiority of one approach over another is lacking. Scapula focused approaches (SFA) are frequently prescribed and warrant investigation. An electronic search including MEDLINE, PEDro, ENFISPO to January 2016 was supplemented by hand searching. Randomised controlled trials were included; appraised using the PEDro scale and synthesised via meta-analysis or narratively, where appropriate. Four studies (n = 190) reported on pain and three studies (n = 122) reported on disability. Regarding pain, there was statistical but not clinically significant benefit of SFA versus generalised approaches (mean difference (VAS) 0.714; 95% CI 0.402-1.026) in the short term (<6 weeks); regarding disability, there was significant benefit of SFA versus generalised approaches (mean difference 14.0; 95% CI 11.2-16.8) in the short term (<6 weeks). One study (n = 22) reported disability at 3 months, which was not statistically significant. Evidence is conflicting from four studies relating to the effect of SFA on scapula position/movement.
SFA for RCSP confers benefit over generalised approaches up to six weeks but this benefit is not apparent by 3 months. Early changes in pain are not clinically significant. With regards to scapula position/movement, the evidence is conflicting. These preliminary conclusions should be treated with significant caution due to limitations of the evidence base.