Subacromial impingement syndrome – What does this mean to and for the patient? A qualitative study

Andrew Cuff, Chris Littlewood*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Background Structured exercise has been reported as the current treatment of choice for patients diagnosed with subacromial impingement syndrome (SIS). However, it has been suggested that this diagnostic term and the language used to explain this condition might negatively influence patient expectations and serve as a barrier to engagement with exercise, hence compromising clinical outcomes. Aim To explore how patients rationalise their shoulder pain following a diagnosis of SIS and how this understanding might impact on their perception of physiotherapy and engagement with exercise. Design A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews and analysed using the Framework method. Setting One NHS Physiotherapy department in South Yorkshire, England. Participants Nine patients diagnosed with SIS were purposively sampled from those referred to the outpatient physiotherapy department by the orthopaedic team (consultant surgeons and registrars). Results Three main themes were generated: (1) The diagnostic experience, (2) Understanding of the problem, (3) Expectation of the treatment required; with one subtheme: (3b) Barriers to engagement with physiotherapy. Conclusion The findings from this study suggest that diagnosis of shoulder pain remains grounded in a biomedical model. Understanding and explaining pain using the subacromial impingement model seems acceptable to patients but might have significant implications for engagement with and success of physiotherapy. It is suggested that clinicians should be mindful of the terminology they use and consider its impact on the patient's treatment pathway with the aim of doing no harm with the language used.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-28
Number of pages5
JournalMusculoskeletal Science and Practice
Early online date17 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Diagnosis
  • Expectations
  • Qualitative study
  • Shoulder pain


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