Shoulder pain is a common musculoskeletal complaint and is often associated with shoulder impingement. The annual incidence of shoulder pain is estimated to be 7% of all injuries, and is the third-most-common type of musculoskeletal pain. Initial treatment of shoulder impingement follows a conservative plan and emphasizes rehabilitation programs as opposed to surgical interventions. Shoulder rehabilitation programs commonly focus on strengthening the muscles of the shoulder complex and, more specifically, the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a primary dynamic stabilizer of the glenohumeral joint, using both eccentric and concentric contractions. The posterior rotator cuff, including teres minor and infraspinatus, works eccentrically to decelerate the arm during overhead throwing. Exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and the surrounding dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder girdle vary and include activities such as internal and external rotation, full-can lifts, and rhythmic stabilizations. Traditionally, shoulder rehabilitation programs have focused on isotonic concentric contractions. Common strengthening exercises typically involve movements that result in shortening the muscle length while simultaneously loading the muscles. However, recent attention has been given to eccentric exercises, which involve lengthening of the muscle during loading, for the treatment of a variety of different tendinopathies including those of the Achilles and patellar tendons. The eccentric, or lengthening, motion is thought to be beneficial for people who are involved in activities that place eccentric stress on their shoulder, such as overhead throwers. Based on studies related to the Achilles tendon, eccentric exercise may positively influence the tendon structure by increasing collagen production and decreasing neovascularization. The changes that occur as a result of eccentric exercises may improve function, strength, and performance and decrease pain more than concentric programs, producing better patient outcomes. Although eccentric strength training has been shown to provide strength gains, there are no clear guidelines as to the inclusion of this form of exercise training in shoulder rehabilitation programs for the purposes of improving function and decreasing pain.
Focused Clinical Question:
Does adding an eccentric-exercise component to the rehabilitation program of patients with shoulder impingement improve shoulder function and/or decrease pain?
The authors are with the Athletic Training Programs, A.T. Still University, Mesa, AZ.