Effect of a Novel Training Program in Patients With Chronic Shoulder Pain Based on Implicit Motor Learning: Pilot and Feasibility Study.

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Effect of a Novel Training Program in Patients With Chronic Shoulder Pain Based on Implicit Motor Learning: Pilot and Feasibility Study.

Maenhout A, Heijenk W, Glashouwer P, Quatacker L, Praet L, Borms D.



Background: Implicit motor learning has been shown to be effective for learning sports-related motor skills. It facilitates automaticity of movements and thereby improves performance in multitasking and high-pressure environments. Motor learning to develop motor skills and neuroplastic capacities is not sufficiently incorporated in musculoskeletal rehabilitation. Especially in patients with chronic pain conditions like shoulder pain this approach might benefit over traditional exercise programs.

Purpose/hypothesis: The aim of this study was to investigate the feasibility and clinical outcome of a new implicit motor learning exercise program in a group of patients with chronic shoulder pain.

Study design: Pilot and feasibility cohort study

Methods: Twenty-six patients with chronic shoulder pain performed a 6-week home exercise program with weekly remote follow up by a physiotherapist. The program comprised five exercises designed to challenge overall body balance, simultaneously engaging the upper limbs in a range of reaching tasks. The tasks included reaching above the head, at and below waist level, in various directions. No instructions on correct performance were provided to foster external focus. Feasibility was assessed by (1) recruitment rate, (2) follow up rate, (3) subjective experience, (4) self-reported adverse events and (5) self-reported adherence of subjects. Clinical effects of the program were assessed with (1) the Shoulder Pain and Disability Index (SPADI), (2) the Auto-Constant score, (3) the numeric rating scale (NRS) at rest and at night, (4) the patient specific functional scale (PSFS), (5) the avoidance endurance questionnaire (AEQ), (6) patient acceptable symptom state (PASS) and (7) a global rating of change (GROC).

Results: The study protocol was feasible in terms of follow up rate (16w for 28 patients), exercise adherence (77.1%± 29.41), and adverse events (no serious, 5 light adverse events). Statistically significant improvements were observed for SPADI (p<0.001), NRS at rest (p=0.033), at night (p=0.29), PSFS (p<0.001) and PASS (p<0.001) after only six weeks training.

Conclusion: This study reveals promising results of another way of looking at exercise for patients with chronic shoulder pain. Both feasibility and clinical effects of the program on pain and function was acceptable. Future studies should incorporate a control group, provide longer follow up and include objective measurements.

Level of evidence: 2b