Summary of intervention

Arthroscopic sub-acromial decompression is a surgical procedure that involves decompressing the sub-acromial space by removing bone spurs and soft tissue arthroscopically.

Number of CCG intervention 2017/18




Arthroscopic subacromial decompression for pure subacromial shoulder impingement should only offered in appropriate cases. To be clear, ‘pure subacromial shoulder impingement’ means subacromial pain not caused by associated diagnoses such as rotator cuff tears, acromio-clavicular joint pain, or calcific tendinopathy. Non-operative treatment such as physiotherapy and exercise programmes are effective and safe in many cases.


For patients who have persistent or progressive symptoms, in spite of adequate non-operative treatment, surgery should be considered. The latest evidence for the potential benefits and risks of subacromial shoulder decompression surgery should be discussed with the patient and a shared decision reached between surgeon and patient as to whether to proceed with surgical intervention.


Rationale for recommendation

Recruiting patients with pure subacromial impingement and no other associated diagnosis, a recent randomised, pragmatic, parallel group, placebo-controlled trial investigated whether subacromial decompression compared with placebo (arthroscopy only) surgery improved pain and function. While statistically better scores were reached by patients who had both types of surgery compared to no surgery, the differences were not clinically significant, which questions the value of this type of surgery.


On the other hand, a more recent prospective randomised trial comparing the long term outcome (10 year follow up) of surgical or non-surgical treatment of sub acromial impingement showed surgery to be superior to non-surgical treatment.


Other studies of limited quality identify certain patients with impingement syndrome that improve with surgical subacromial decompression if non-operative management fails. There is also some evidence to show the benefit of surgery when used selectively and applying national clinical guidelines.


A review of the literature identified one further systematic review that looked at the effectiveness of surgery. The review was limited by the quality of evidence but their findings showed no difference between patients treated with surgery and those treated with non-surgical options.


Healthcare professionals treating patients with subacromial pain should be familiar with the NICE approved commissioning and treatment guidelines for the management of subacromial pain.


Risks associated with arthroscopic sub-acromial decompression are low but include infection, frozen shoulder, ongoing pain, potential damage to blood vessels or nerves and those associated with having a general anaesthetic.