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Home E-Weekly November 28, 2017

Does Shoulder Decompression Even Work?

Published: November 27, 2017

POINTLESS PROCEDURE? Oxford research finds nothing to suggest shoulder-decompression surgery cures pain.

Shoulder-decompression surgery may be no more effective at pain relief than no treatment at all, according to a study from researchers at Oxford University.

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) performs roughly 21,000 shoulder decompressions per year. Research published in the Lancet suggests that this form of treatment is not as effective as once was thought. Sampling more than 300 patients who reported similar symptoms, researchers and physicians divided the pool into 3 methods of treatment: decompression surgery, placebo surgery and no surgery or treatment at all. Between the 2 surgical categories, no patients were told whether they would be receiving the real decompression operation or the placebo operation in which physicians made incisions to examine but not to perform surgery otherwise.

At both a 6 and 12-month checkpoint following treatment, participants from all 3 groups were asked to rate and report their symptoms of pain on a scale from 0-48, 48 being the most pain free. Pain did diminish in all 3 groups. Yet the feedback indicated that decompression surgery offered no greater relief than the placebo surgery. Moreover, although the trial did not check in with patients after more than a year post surgery, researchers noted the unlikelihood that 1 group would show significant improvement over the others beyond 12 months.

The study's results suggest other forms of treatment, such as physiotherapy, could be just as effective as decompression surgery. Researchers are recommending that all patients seeking shoulder-pain relief in the UK be told of these findings so that they can make the most informed treatment decision possible.

Joe Madsen

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