The study objective was to compare the effects of soft tissue massage and exercise with those of exercise alone on pain, disability, and range of motion in people with nonspecific shoulder pain. The study was conducted in public hospital physical therapy clinics in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The study participants were 80 people with an average age of 62.6 years (SD=12.2) who were referred to physical therapists for treatment of nonspecific shoulder pain. Participants were randomly assigned to either a group that received soft tissue massage around the shoulder and exercises (n=40) or a group that received exercise only (n=40) for 4 weeks. The primary outcome was improvement in pain, as measured on a 100-mm visual analog scale, 1 week after the cessation of treatment. Secondary outcomes were disability and active flexion, abduction, and hand-behind-back range of motion. Measurements were obtained at baseline, 1 week after the cessation of treatment, and 12 weeks after the cessation of treatment. The between-group difference in pain scores from the baseline to 12 weeks after the cessation of treatment demonstrated a small significant difference in favor of the group receiving exercise only (mean difference=14.7 mm). There were no significant differences between groups in any other variable. It was not possible to mask therapists or participants to group allocation. Diagnostic tests were not used on participants to determine specific shoulder pathology.
The addition of soft tissue massage to an exercise program for the shoulder conferred no additional benefit for improving pain, disability, or range of motion in people with nonspecific shoulder pain.