General practice management of rotator cuff related shoulder pain: A reliance on ultrasound and injection guided care

Josh Naunton, Christopher Harrison, Helena Britt, Terrence Haines, Peter Malliaras

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35 Citations (Scopus)


Objective To describe general practitioner’s (GP’s) current management of rotator cuff related shoulder pain (RCRP) in Australia and identify if this is consistent with recommended care and best available evidence. The secondary aim was to determine if GP management of RCRP changed over time. Methods Data about management of RCRP by Australian GPs was extracted from the Bettering the Evaluation of Care of Health program database over its final five years (April 2011-March 2016). Patient and GP characteristics and encounter management data were extracted. Results are reported using descriptive statistics with point estimates and 95% confidence intervals. A secondary analysis over a 16 year period (2000–2016) examined management data for RCRP in four year periods. Results RCRP was the most common shoulder condition managed by GPs at 5.12 per 1,000 encounters; and at an estimated 732,000 times nationally in 2015–2016. Management rate was higher among male patients (5.5 per 1000 encounters c.f. 4.8 for female patients) and was highest in the 45–64 year old age group (8.6 per 1000). RCRP was most frequently managed with medications (54.7%), steroid injection (19.5%) followed by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (19.1%). Imaging was ordered for 43.4% (ultrasound 41.2% and x-ray 11.6%) of all RCRP presentations (new and returning). Over half (53.0%) of new RCRP presentations were referred for ultrasound imaging. In the 16 year period 2000–16 ultrasound imaging more than doubled from 19.1% to 41.9% of management occasions. In parallel, prescribed steroid injection increased from 9.8% to 19.7%. Conclusion The usual care provided by GPs for RCRP relies on the use of ultrasound and steroid injection. This is not consistent with recommended care and clinical guidelines that recommend these are delayed until after 6–12 weeks of NSAID medication, exercise and activity modification. There has been a significant increase in the rate of steroid injection and ultrasound imaging, which may be due in part to policy change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0227688
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

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