Applied twice a week for four weeks, an 18-minute shoulder massage led to significant improvements in range of motion, function and muscle tightness among people with posterior shoulder tightness, according to recent research.

The study, “Effects and predictors of shoulder muscle massage for patients with posterior shoulder tightness,” involved 52 people with posterior shoulder tightness, recruited from a hospital-based, outpatient orthopedic and rehabilitation practice. These subjects ranged in age from 43 to 73 years, with a mean age of 54 years.

Participants were randomly assigned to either the massage group or the placebo control group. Those in the massage group received an 18-minute massage to the tight shoulder twice a week for four weeks. A physical therapist with clinical experience in manual therapy provided the massage, focusing for six minutes on each of these three muscles: the posterior deltoid, infraspinatus and teres minor of the involved shoulder.

“The techniques of massage, including petrissage for three minutes and rolling for three minutes of soft tissues, were applied to the patients with prone position and arm by side,” state the study’s authors. “For the control group, the same therapists applied light hand touch on the muscles (placebo control) 10 minutes two times a week for four weeks.”

The main outcome measures for this study were glenohumeral internal rotation range of motion (ROM), functional status and muscle tightness, all of which were assessed before the massage and control intervention and again after the four-week intervention period came to a close.

Glenohumeral internal rotation ROM was assessed using a hand-held goniometer, with subjects in a prone position, and during the test, “the scapula was palpated at the lateral border and stabilized by hand,” report the study’s authors. Then, to evaluate muscle tightness, the researchers used a computerized myotonometer, with which they measured the tightness of the posterior deltoid, infraspinatus and teres minor. The third outcome measure, functional status, was assessed via the self-reported Flexilevel Scale of Shoulder Function (FLEX-SF).

Results of the research revealed a significant increase in the overall mean glenohumeral internal rotation ROM among subjects in the massage group compared to those in the placebo control group. There also was a significant decrease in the muscle tightness of all three posterior shoulder muscles among subjects in the massage group compared to those in the placebo control group. As for functional status, the overall mean FLEX-SF scores increased significantly among the participants who received massage compared to those who received the placebo control intervention.

“In this study, four-week massage was effective in internal rotation ROM, FLEX-SF and muscle tightness compared with the control group,” conclude the study’s authors. “Muscle-tightness reduction in the posterior shoulder contributes to improvement of glenohumeral internal ROM after four-week massage.”


Authors: Jing-Ian Yang, Shiau-yee Chen, Ching-Lin Hsieh and Jiu-jenq Lin.

Sources: Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, School of Occupational Therapy, School and Graduate Institute of Physical Therapy, College of Medicine, Physical Therapy Center, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan; Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Taipei Medical University-Municipal Wan Fang Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan. Originally published in 2012 in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 13(46).