The aim of this evaluator-blinded randomized clinical trial was to determine if manual therapy added to a therapeutic exercise program produced greater improvements than a sham manual therapy added to the same exercise program in patients with non-specific shoulder pain.
Forty-five subjects were randomly allocated into one of three groups:
- manual therapy (glenohumeral mobilization technique and rib-cage technique);
- thoracic sham manual therapy (glenohumeral mobilization technique and rib-cage sham technique);
- sham manual therapy (sham glenohumeral mobilization technique and rib-cage sham technique).
All groups also received a therapeutic exercise program. Pain intensity, disability, and pain-free active shoulder range of motion were measured post-treatment and at 4-week and 12-week follow-ups. Mixed-model analyses of variance and post hoc pairwise comparisons with Bonferroni corrections were constructed for the analysis of the outcome measures.
All groups reported improved pain intensity, disability, and pain-free active shoulder range of motion. However, there were no between-group differences in these outcome measures.
The authors concluded that the addition of the manual therapy techniques applied in the present study to a therapeutic exercise protocol did not seem to add benefits to the management of subjects with non-specific shoulder pain.
What does that mean?
I think it means that the improvements observed in this study were due to 1) exercise and 2) a range of non-specific effects, and that they were not due to the manual techniques tested.
I cannot say that I find this enormously surprising. But I would also find it unsurprising if fans of these methods would claim that the results show that the physios applied the techniques not correctly.
In any case, I feel this is an interesting study, not least because of its use of sham therapy. But I somehow doubt that the patients were unable to distinguish sham from verum. If so, the study was not patient-blind which obviously is difficult to achieve with manual treatments.