Shoulder pain | How can research help avoid surgery?

Shoulder problems affect 20% of adults and are often very painful, affecting sleep, work and everyday life. Most patients receive treatment from their GPs or physiotherapists, but seven times more patients are having surgery compared to 10 years ago, despite there being little evidence that surgery provides better results than non-surgical treatments.

Research funded by Versus Arthritis and led by Professor Danielle van der Windt (Keele University) aims to develop a way to screen patients to identify the cause of shoulder pain and help clinicians to select the most appropriate treatment for patients.

PANDA-S is now in its second year. The researchers are in the process of analysing 24 datasets, aiming to identify characteristics of patients who are likely to benefit from common primary care treatments for shoulder pain such as exercise, shoulder injections or surgery. The study is also observing long-term outcomes of different treatments, using questionnaires to follow up with patients for three years to see if their treatment has helped pain.

Using this information, the team will develop a decision support tool to help clinicians identify patients likely to recover quickly from surgery or those that may experience continued pain. This could help to ensure people do not have unnecessary surgery and advise patients on other treatment options to relieve their shoulder pain.

The final stage of this project will be a randomised trial of over 500 patients to test if the decision support tool leads to better outcomes for patients (reducing long-term pain, disability, and time off work). The study will also assess if the tool helps to make better use of NHS resources.

For more information please visit the NIHR website.