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Shoulder dysfunction is common and pathology of the rotator cuff tendons and subacromial bursa are considered to be a major cause of pain and morbidity. Although many hypotheses exist there is no definitive understanding as to the origin of the pain arising from these structures. Research investigations from other tendons have placed intra-tendinous neovascularity as a potential mechanism of pain production. The prevalence of neovascularity in patients with a clinical diagnosis of rotator cuff tendinopathy is unknown. As such the primary aim of this pilot study was to investigate if neovascularity could be identified and to determine the prevalence of neovascularity in the rotator cuff tendons and subacromial bursa in subjects with unilateral shoulder pain clinically assessed to be rotator cuff tendinopathy. The secondary aims were to investigate the association between the presence of neovascularity and pain, duration of symptoms, and, neovascularity and shoulder function.
Patients with a clinical diagnosis of unilateral rotator cuff tendinopathy referred for a routine diagnostic ultrasound (US) scan in a major London teaching hospital formed the study population. At referral patients were provided with an information document. On the day of the scan (on average, at least one week later) the patients agreeing to participate were taken through the consent process and underwent an additional clinical examination prior to undergoing a bilateral grey scale and colour Doppler US examination (symptomatic and asymptomatic shoulder) using a Philips HDI 5000 Sono CT US machine. The ultrasound scans were performed by one of two radiologists who recorded their findings and the final assessment was made by a third radiologist blinded both to the clinical examination and the ultrasound examination. The findings of the radiologists who performed the scans and the blinded radiologist were compared and any disagreements were resolved by consensus.
Twenty-six patients agreed to participate and formed the study population. Of these, 6 subjects were not included in the final assessment following the pre-scan clinical investigation. This is because one subject had complete cessation of symptoms between the time of the referral and entry into the trial. Another five had developed bilateral shoulder pain during the same period. The mean age of the 20 subjects forming the study population was 50.2 (range 32-69) years (SD = 10.9) and the mean duration of symptoms was 22.6 (range .75 to 132) months (SD = 40.1). Of the 20 subjects included in the formal analysis, 13 subjects (65%) demonstrated neovascularity in the symptomatic shoulder and 5 subjects (25%) demonstrated neovascularity in the asymptomatic shoulder. The subject withdrawn due to complete cessation of symptoms was not found to have neovascularity in either shoulder and of the 5 withdrawn due to bilateral symptoms; two subjects were found to have signs of bilateral neovascularity, one subject demonstrated neovascularity in one shoulder and two subjects in neither shoulder.
This study demonstrated that neovascularity does occur in subjects with a clinical diagnosis of rotator cuff tendinopathy and to a lesser extent in asymptomatic shoulders. In addition, the findings of this investigation did not identify an association between the presence of neovascularity; and pain, duration of symptoms or shoulder function. Future research is required to determine the relevance of these findings.
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