Arthrographic joint distension with saline and steroid improves function and reduces pain in patients with painful stiff shoulder: results of a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial

R Buchbinder, S Green, A Forbes, S Hall, G Lawler
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2004, 63 (3): 302-9

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether arthrographic distension with a mixture of saline and steroid, in patients with painful stiff shoulder for at least 3 months, is better than placebo in improving function, pain, and range of motion at 3, 6, and 12 weeks.

METHODS: A randomised, placebo controlled trial with participant and outcome assessor blinding in which shoulder joint distension with normal saline and corticosteroid was compared with placebo (arthrogram). Outcome measures, assessed at 3, 6, and 12 weeks, included a shoulder-specific disability measure (SPADI), a patient preference measure (Problem Elicitation Technique (PET)), pain, and range of active motion.

RESULTS: From 96 potential participants, 48 were recruited. Four withdrew from the placebo group after the 3 week assessment and three subsequently received arthrographic distension with saline and steroid. At 3 weeks, significantly greater improvement in SPADI (p = 0.005), PET, overall pain, active total shoulder abduction, and hand behind back was found in participants in the joint distension and steroid group than in the placebo group. At 6 weeks the results of the intention to treat analysis favoured joint distension, although the between-group differences were only significant for improvement in PET (difference in mean change in PET between groups = 45.9 (95% CI 3.2 to 88.7). Excluding the four withdrawals, the between-group differences for the disability and pain measures significantly favoured distension over placebo. At 12 weeks, both the intention to treat analysis and an analysis excluding the four withdrawals demonstrated a significantly greater improvement in PET score for the distension group.

CONCLUSIONS: Short term efficacy of arthrographic distension with normal saline and corticosteroid over placebo was demonstrated in patients with painful stiff shoulder.

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