Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

OBJECTIVES: To estimate the national prevalence and incidence of adults consulting for a shoulder condition and to investigate patterns of diagnosis, treatment, consultation and referral 3 yr after initial presentation. METHODS: Prevalence and incidence rates were estimated for 658469 patients aged 18 and over in the year 2000 using a primary care database, the IMS Disease Analyzer-Mediplus UK. A cohort of 9215 incident cases was followed-up prospectively for 3 yr beyond the initial consultation. RESULTS: The annual prevalence and incidence of people consulting for a shoulder condition was 2.36% [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.32-2.40%] and 1.47% (95% CI 1.44-1.50%), respectively. Prevalence increased linearly with age whilst incidence peaked at around 50 yr then remained static at around 2%. Around half of the incident cases consulted once only, while 13.6% were still consulting with a shoulder problem during the third year of follow-up. During the 3 yr following initial presentation, 22.4% of patients were referred to secondary care, 30.8% were prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 10.6% were given an injection by their general practitioner (GP). GPs tended to use a limited number of generalized codes when recording a diagnosis; just five of 426 possible Read codes relating to shoulder conditions accounted for 74.6% of the diagnoses of new cases recorded by GPs. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of people consulting for shoulder problems in primary care is substantially lower than community-based estimates of shoulder pain. Most referrals occur within 3 months of initial presentation, but only a minority of patients are referred to orthopaedic specialists or rheumatologists. GPs may lack confidence in applying precise diagnoses to shoulder conditions.

Original publication




Journal article


Rheumatology (oxford)

Publication Date





215 - 221


Adolescent, Adult, Age Distribution, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal, Epidemiologic Methods, Female, Humans, Injections, Intra-Articular, Male, Middle Aged, Patient Acceptance of Health Care, Primary Health Care, Referral and Consultation, Sex Distribution, Shoulder Pain, United Kingdom