After doing some reading about regional interdependence for the SFMA inservice, we thought it would be interesting to look at some research regarding thoracic spine manipulation for shoulder pathologies, especially with the evidence for thoracic manipulations for neck pain. Regional interdependence is the idea that impairments in a separate anatomical area can contribute to the patient's primary complaint. Due to the seemingly unconventional connection between the thoracic spine and shoulder, it may appear unusual to treat shoulder pathologies with t-spine manipulations, but let's remember that limited thoracic mobility can affect the shoulder position and potentially lead to pain. There have been several studies looking at this relationship, and others. Overall, there is a decent amount of evidence displaying short-term pain relief following thoracic manipulation for shoulder pathologies, such as shoulder impingement syndrome or rotator cuff tendinopathy, even though the mechanism is poorly understood. This could potentially hasten the rehabilitation process, by allowing more aggressive therapy.
Boyles et al performed an exploratory study on the effects of a single thoracic spine manipulation on subacromial impingement syndrome. While no additional treatment was performed, the authors were able to find statistically significant changes in both pain and disability scores in just 48 hours; however, these results were not found to be clinically significant, based on the established minimal change for clinical significance. The methods of this study were lacking in several areas: low participant number, no randomization, no control group, and more. The authors realized this and emphasized the fact that this study should be used as a launching point for further studies. The fact that significant changes were created after one treatment alone in just 48 hours suggests the potential for a component of care in dealing with patient suffering from subacromial impingement syndrome. Just as manual therapy + exercise was found to be greater than exercise alone for cervical pain, maybe the same applies to these conditions. Additionally, when using thoracic manipulations for cervical pain or lumbar manipulations for low back pain, there exists specific inclusion criteria in order to have the desired results. Again, maybe the same applies to thoracic manipulation for subacromial impingement (or other should pathologies) and we just need to discover the criteria. Sounds like a perfect research opportunity! Obviously, solid evidence on this topic is still lacking, but we hope that this research has at least opened your mind to the possibility of regional interdependence in your patients and maybe treating either the cervical or thoracic spine (or both) the next time you have a patient with a shoulder pathology.
Boyles RE, Ritland BM, Miracle BM, Barclay DM, Faul MS, Moore JH, Koppenhaver SL, Wainner RS. (2009). The short-term effects of thoracic spine thrust manipulation on patients with shoulder impingement syndrome. Man Ther. 2009 Aug;14(4):375-80. Web. 15 May 2013.
Muth S, Barbe MF, Lauer R, McClure PW. (2012). The effects of thoracic spine manipulation in subjects with signs of rotator cuff tendinopathy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Dec;42(12):1005-16. Web. 15 May 2013.
Strunce JB, Walker MJ, Boyles RE, Young BA. (2009). The immediate effects of thoracic spine and rib manipulation on subjects with primary complaints of shoulder pain. J Man Manip Ther. 2009;17(4):230-6. Web. 15 May 2013.
Walser RF, Meserve BB, Boucher TR. (2009). The effectiveness of thoracic spine manipulation for the management of musculoskeletal conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Man Manip Ther. 2009;17(4):237-46. Web. 15 May 2013.