The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of manual therapy (MT) for individuals with rotator cuff (RC) tendinopathy. Background Rotator cuff tendinopathy is a highly prevalent musculoskeletal disorder, for which MT is an intervention used frequently by physical therapists. However, evidence regarding the efficacy of MT is inconclusive. A literature search using terms related to shoulder, RC tendinopathy, and MT was conducted in 4 databases to identify randomized controlled trials that compared MT to any other type of intervention to treat RC tendinopathy. Randomized controlled trials were assessed with the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool. Meta-analyses or qualitative syntheses of evidence were performed. Twenty-one studies were included. The majority had a high risk of bias. Only 5 studies had a score of 69% or greater, indicating a moderate to low risk of bias. A small but statistically significant overall effect for pain reduction of MT compared with a placebo or in addition to another intervention was seen (n = 406), which may or may not be clinically important, given a mean difference of 1.1 (95% confidence interval: 0.6, 1.6) on a 10-cm visual analog scale. Adding MT to an exercise program (n = 226) significantly reduced pain (mean difference, 1.0; 95% confidence interval: 0.7, 1.4), as reported on a 10-cm visual analog scale, which may or may not be clinically important. Based on qualitative analyses, it is unclear whether MT used alone or added to an exercise program improves function.
For persons with RC tendinopathy, based on low- to moderate-quality evidence, MT may reduce pain; however, it is not clear if it can improve function or not. More methodologically sound studies are necessary to arrive at definitive conclusions.