Arthroscopic partial repair for massive rotator cuff tears does it work. A systematic review

Arthroscopic Partial Repair of Massive Rotator Cuff Tears: Evidence from Randomized Controlled Trials


Rotator cuff injuries, particularly massive rotator cuff tears, present a significant challenge in orthopedic surgery due to their high incidence and the debilitating symptoms they often cause. Arthroscopic partial rotator cuff repair (APRCR) has been proposed as an effective treatment option for these large tears. This statement aims to synthesize the findings from prospective randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to provide a comprehensive understanding of the efficacy and outcomes of APRCR.

Methodology and Inclusion Criteria

The statement analyzes RCTs that compare APRCR with other treatment modalities or with different techniques within APRCR. Studies included are those involving patients with confirmed massive rotator cuff tears, which were treated via arthroscopy. Both patient-reported outcomes (PROMs) and objective findings such as re-tear rates were considered.

Efficacy of APRCR

RCTs consistently demonstrate a significant improvement in function and pain reduction following APRCR. Patients who undergo this procedure tend to report marked improvements in shoulder functionality, mobility, and pain scores postoperatively. Comparisons of APRCR with conservative treatments, such as physiotherapy and pain management, show that the surgical approach is generally more effective in improving long-term function and pain relief.

Comparative Outcomes: APRCR vs. Complete Repair

Comparing APRCR with complete repair of massive rotator cuff tears, the evidence is less clear-cut. Some studies suggest similar functional outcomes and pain scores between the two procedures. However, there is an increased risk of re-tear and revision surgery in the APRCR group. It’s crucial to acknowledge the complexity of the patients’ condition in these studies – many of these patients are not ideal candidates for a full repair due to factors like tear size, tissue quality, and comorbidities.

Complications and Risks

Although the re-tear rate is higher with APRCR than complete repair, the procedure itself carries fewer perioperative risks. Studies have reported fewer complications such as infection, stiffness, and deltoid detachment with APRCR. Furthermore, the arthroscopic approach allows for a faster recovery and less post-operative pain compared to open procedures.

Patient Selection and Individualized Treatment Approach

Given the trade-off between the risk of re-tear and perioperative complications, patient selection for APRCR is critical. Younger patients with good tissue quality and lower comorbidity profiles may be more suitable for a complete repair. Conversely, older patients, or those with poor tissue quality or higher surgical risk, may benefit more from APRCR.

Conclusion and Future Directions

APRCR is a valuable tool in the management of massive rotator cuff tears, offering significant improvements in pain and function for many patients. However, the decision between APRCR and other treatment options should be individualized, taking into account the patient’s age, overall health, and the quality of the rotator cuff tissue. More large-scale, multicenter RCTs are needed to further validate these findings and to establish the long-term efficacy of APRCR, specifically in different patient subgroups. The future of massive rotator cuff tear management will likely involve refining patient selection criteria and further improving surgical techniques to optimize outcomes.

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© 2023 Dr. Robert Afra – San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Shoulder – Knee – Elbow