Shoulder pain is the third most common musculoskeletal complaint in primary care. The international guidelines for general practitioners (GPs) recommend a stepwise treatment of shoulder pain. Little is known about the actual distribution of these treatments in current practice.
To gain insight in the incidence and current management of shoulder complaints in Dutch general practice.
A retrospective cohort study was conducted using a health care database containing the full electronic medical records of approximately 200 000 patients in Dutch general practice. A search algorithm was constructed to identify incident cases of shoulder complaints from January 2012 to December 2017. Data on the management of shoulder complaints were manually validated in a random sample of 1000 cases.
The overall incidence of shoulder complaints was 30.3 (95% confidence interval 29.9-30.7) per 1000 person-years. More than half of the patients (58.6%) consulted their GP only once, 44.4% two times or more and 19.7% three times or more. For most patients (58.1%), the GP applied a wait-and-see policy or prescription of oral medication in the first consultation. However, no less than 42.9% of the patients were referred or received an injection already in the first consultation.
There is a wide variety of treatments for shoulder complaints applied by the GP. Some patients are referred or received an injection already in the first consultation. The stepwise approach recommended by the guideline, might not always be applicable due to the diversity of patient- and shoulder characteristics presented in general practice.

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.