Shoulder pain resulting from subacromial impingement syndrome (SAIS) is a common problem with a relatively poor response to treatment. There is little research exploring physical therapists’ perspectives on the management of the syndrome. The study objective was to investigate physical therapists’ perceptions and experiences regarding the use of exercise in the treatment of patients with SAIS. Three 60- to 90-minute focus group sessions containing 6 to 8 experienced musculoskeletal physical therapists (total number=20) were conducted. Thematic content analysis was used to analyze transcripts and develop core themes and categories. Exercise was seen as key in the management of SAIS. The overarching theme was the need to “gain buy-in to exercise” at an early stage. The main subtheme was patient education. Therapists identified the need to use education about SAIS etiology to foster buy-in and “sell” self-management through exercise to the patient. They consistently mentioned achieving education and buy-in using visual tools, postural advice, and sometimes a “quick fix” of pain control. Furthermore, experienced practitioners reported including educational interventions much earlier in treatment than when they first qualified. Therapists emphasized the need for individually tailored exercises, including: scapular stabilization; rotator cuff, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior muscle strengthening; and anterior shoulder and pectoralis minor muscle stretching. Quality of exercise performance was deemed more important than the number of repetitions that the patients performed.
Experienced musculoskeletal physical therapists believe that exercise is central in treating patients with SAIS and that gaining patient buy-in to its importance, patient education, promoting self-management, and postural advice are central to the successful treatment of people with SAIS.