Acute rotator cuff tendinopathy: does ice, low load isometric exercise, or a combination of the two produce an analgaesic effect?
Rotator cuff tendinopathies are the most commonly diagnosed musculoskeletal shoulder conditions and are associated with pain, weakness and loss of function.1 Tendon swelling may be associated with tendinopathy and may result from acute overload.2–3 An increase in tendon cells (tenocytes) and upregulation of large molecular weight proteoglycans, such as aggrecan, may increase tendon water content.2 There is uncertainty as to whether the swelling is related to the pain or is instead an observed but unrelated phenomenon. Weakness detected clinically may be due to pain inhibition.4–5 Early treatment of acute rotator cuff tendinopathy involves patient education and relative rest, and may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. Subacromial corticosteroid injections are also used to achieve the same purpose. These techniques show low to moderate evidence of reducing short-term pain but they do not improve function.6 The medications have side effects such as gastrointestinal tract complaints,7 and corticosteroids may damage tendon tissue.8 Identifying alternative ways to control pain and inflammation may be warranted. Two clinical procedures to manage RC tendinopathy include ice wraps and isometric exercise, however, there are no empirical data supporting their use. This pilot study, conducted at the Illawarra Sports Medicine Clinic, NSW, Australia, was designed to test (1) the short term analgaesic effect of these interventions and (2) the feasibility of a larger clinical trial for adults diagnosed with acute rotator cuff tendinopathy (<12 weeks).