BACKGROUND: Four out of five patients with hypermobility spectrum disorder (HSD) or hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS) experience shoulder complaints including persistent pain and instability. Evidence suggests that patients with HSD/hEDS who experience knee and back complaints improve with exercise-based therapy. However, no study has focused on exercise-based treatment for the shoulder in this patient group. The potential benefits of strengthening the shoulder muscles, such as increased muscle-tendon stiffness, may be effective for patients with HSD/hEDS who often display decreased strength and increased shoulder laxity/instability. The primary aim is to investigate the short-term effectiveness of a 16-week progressive heavy shoulder strengthening programme and general advice (HEAVY) compared with low-load training and general advice (LIGHT), on self-reported shoulder symptoms, function, and quality of life.
METHODS: A superiority, parallel group, randomised controlled trial will be conducted with 100 patients from primary care with HSD/hEDS and shoulder complaints (persistent pain and/or instability) for more than 3 months. Participants will be randomised to receive HEAVY (full range of motion, high load) or LIGHT (neutral to midrange of motion, low load) strengthening programme three times weekly with exercises targeting scapular and rotator cuff muscles. HEAVY will be supervised twice weekly, and LIGHT three times during the 16 weeks. The primary outcome will be between-group difference in change from baseline to 16-week follow-up in the Western Ontario Shoulder Instability Index (WOSI, 0-2100 better to worse). Secondary outcomes will include a range of self-reported outcomes covering symptoms, function, and quality of life, besides clinical tests for shoulder strength, laxity/instability, and proprioception. Outcome assessors will be blinded to group allocation. Participants will be kept blind to treatment allocation through minimal information about the intervention content and hypotheses. Primary analyses will be performed by a blinded epidemiologist.
DISCUSSION: If effective, the current heavy shoulder strengthening programme will challenge the general understanding of prescribing low-load exercise interventions for patients with HSD/hEDS and provide a new treatment strategy. The study will address an important and severe condition using transparent, detailed, and high-quality methods to potentially support a future implementation.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03869307 . Registered on 11 March 2019.