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Shoulder Symptoms and Function in Geriatric Patients

Burner, Todd MD; Abbott, Daniel MD; Huber, Karri DO; Stout, Monica BS; Fleming, Raymond PhD; Wessel, Bambi MS; Massey, Ellen; Rosenthal, Ann MD; Burns, Edith MD

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: October/December 2014 - Volume 37 - Issue 4 - p 154–158
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0b013e3182abe7d6
Research Reports

Background and Purpose: Musculoskeletal problems, including shoulder pain, are common in the general population and are often cited as reasons for physician visits. Although many risk factors for shoulder pain are postulated, the effects of shoulder pain on functional level and perceived quality of life are poorly characterized in older adults. In this study, we set out to determine the prevalence and impact of shoulder symptoms and dysfunction in an older adult veteran population.

Methods: A chart review, cross-sectional survey, and examination were performed. A sample of 93 individuals, aged 60 years or older, was recruited from a primary clinic outpatient waiting room at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Patients were asked about shoulder symptoms and self-assessed health and completed the Stanford Modified Health Assessment Questionnaire. A series of 3 shoulder maneuvers was used to assess shoulder mobility and pain. The presence of diabetes and statin use was documented. A more thorough chart review was performed on individuals who reported shoulder pain and disability.

Results: Severe shoulder pain was common in the study group, reported by 31% of all participants. Functional limitation measured by the Modified Health Assessment Questionnaire and answering “yes” to greater difficulty performing daily tasks was associated with reduced internal rotation, which was present in almost 36% of all participants. Symptoms were often bilateral. No statistically significant risk factors emerged in this small sample, but suggestive trends were apparent. Interestingly, few patients reported discussing these problems with their providers, and shoulder-related problems were documented in only 10% of corresponding problem lists of symptomatic patients.

Conclusions: With an aging population, the high prevalence of shoulder pain may have considerable impact on public health. It will become increasingly important to define risk factors, delineate etiologies, and devise new management strategies for patients with symptomatic shoulder disease.

1Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

2University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Address correspondence to: Todd Burner, MD, 5000 W National Ave, Room 5110, Milwaukee, WI 53295 ( and

The authors thank the following for grant support: The Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) (1UL1-RR031973 (-01)) and The Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (8UL1TR000055). Finally, the authors thank the NIH/NIA (T35 AG029793).

The rights of all participants were protected throughout this entire study process.

The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Decision Editor: Richard W. Bohannon

© 2014 Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy, APTA