Sunday, February 28, 2021

Shoulder Still Painful After Subacromial Decompression Surgery

Recently, we had a patient referred to our clinic for his shoulder pain (shoulder impingement). He had pain just lifting his arm/shoulder sideways. After talking to him, he mentioned that he already had surgery a few years ago to remove part of his acromion to increase the subacromial space. 

R shoulder impingement
This surgery (usually called subacromial decompression) is done to free up more space for the supraspinatus muscle and subacromial bursa so there is less chance of an impingement.

If part of the acromion (see picture above) was already shaved off and removed, how can the patient still be getting shoulder pain from shoulder impingement?

Actually, I was not surprised at all. Two recent systematic reviews/ meta-analyses and a Cochrane systematic review (referenced below) concluded with high certainty that for patients who painful shoulder impingement, subacromial decompression surgery does not help. Pain wise, function or health-related quality of life is not better compared with placebo surgery or physiotherapy.

In the United States alone, there are more than 500,000 procedures of subacromial compression done for subacromial pain, or in conjunction with a rotator cuff repair every year. 

In another recently published study, authors from Finland did a 5 year follow up on patients to compare arthroscopic subacromial decompression versus diagnostic arthroscopy, a placebo surgical intervention, and exercise therapy. They found that arthroscopic subacromial decompression provided no benefit over diagnostic arthroscopy or exercise therapy at 5 years follow up.

Looking at all the current evidence, if you have subacromial shoulder pain or shoulder impingement, then it is safe to say that going under the surgeon's knife may not help after all. The study by Paavola et al (2020) suggested exercise therapy was just as effective.

What did we do? Treating his neck and nerve root irritation got rid of his shoulder pain.


Hao Q, Devji T, Zeraatkar D et al (2019). Minimal Important Differences For Improvement In Shoulder ConditionPatient-reported Outcomes: A Systematic Review To Inform a BMJ Rapid Recommendation. BMJ Open DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-028777.

Karjalainen TV, Jain NB, Page CM et al (2019). Subacromial Decompression Surgery For Rotator Cuff Disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 1:CD005619. DOI: 10.1002/

Lahdeoja T, Karjalainen TV, Jokihaara J et al (2020). Subacromial Decompression Surgery For Adults With Shoulder Pain: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. BJSM. 54: 665-73. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-10048.

Paavola M, Kanto K, Ranstam J et al (2020). Subacomial Decompression Versus Diagnostic Arthroscopy For Shoulder Impingement: A 5-year Follow-up Of A Randomised, Placebo Surgery Controlled Clinical Trial. BJSM 55(2): 99-107. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102216.

No comments:

Post a Comment