Cost effective treatment is needed for common self limiting rheumatological conditions. Periarthritis of the shoulder is an example. There is no consensus for one type of treatment, though local steroids or physiotherapy are conventionally used. Their cost and efficacy were compared in a prospective randomised observer-blind trial--in essence a medical audit of the treatment of a common rheumatological problem. Sixty two consecutive patients presenting with a painful stiff shoulder were studied. Patients with coexistent diseases like cervical spondylosis or a stroke were excluded. They were randomly allocated to receive local steroids, six weeks' physiotherapy, or both. The three groups were of similar age, sex, and disease severity. Assessments of pain and shoulder movement were made initially, at six weeks, and at six months by a 'blinded' observer. Physiotherapy was given by one therapist and injections by one physician. All three groups showed significant improvements by six weeks, with further improvement at six months. Improvements were identical in all three groups. No treatment gave complications. The costs of treatment varied: an injection of triamcinolone cost 2.10 pounds; a six week course of physiotherapy cost 48.50 pounds; combination treatment cost 50.60 pounds. Patients expect treatment for a painful stiff shoulder. The results show that local steroid injections are as effective as physiotherapy alone or a combination. They provide rapid treatment and are less expensive. In the uncomplicated case a local steroid injection is the most cost effective treatment.
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