Failed Rotator Cuff Repair

Failure of Rotator Cuff Repair: A Review of Prospective Randomized Controlled Studies


Rotator cuff repair (RCR) is a common procedure for managing shoulder pain and dysfunction, particularly among the aging population. Despite technological advancements, RCR failure remains a significant concern, impacting patient satisfaction and healthcare economics. A deep understanding of the factors contributing to RCR failure is crucial for developing optimized treatment plans and improving outcomes.

Methodology of Reviewed Studies

The randomized controlled trials (RCTs) considered in this review were conducted between 2020 and 2023, published in peer-reviewed journals, and focused on prospective evaluation of RCR failures. The studies were identified using databases like PubMed, Cochrane, and All included studies used stringent criteria to define RCR failure, primarily re-tear or incomplete healing of the rotator cuff, postoperative pain, and compromised shoulder function.

Identified Causes of Failure

Patient Factors

Studies highlighted patient-related factors including age, smoking status, and comorbidities like diabetes, as significant predictors of RCR failure. Older patients and those with diabetes exhibited higher failure rates due to poor tissue quality and healing capacity. Additionally, smokers had increased failure rates, likely due to impaired vascular supply and consequent inferior healing.

Surgical Factors

The RCTs revealed a significant association between surgical factors, including the surgical technique used, the size and chronicity of the tear, and the experience of the surgeon, and the rate of RCR failure. Large, massive, or chronic tears were found to be more prone to failure due to the degenerative nature of the tissue. Further, certain surgical techniques, such as the single-row repair, were associated with higher re-tear rates compared to double-row or suture-bridge techniques.

Postoperative Rehabilitation

The intensity and timing of postoperative rehabilitation also significantly influenced RCR outcomes. Patients who initiated early, aggressive rehabilitation showed higher rates of RCR failure. This emphasizes the importance of balanced, carefully paced rehabilitation to allow adequate healing while restoring range of motion and strength.

Prevention Strategies

The reviewed RCTs proposed several prevention strategies. These included optimizing patient health prior to surgery, such as managing blood sugar levels in diabetic patients and encouraging smoking cessation. Furthermore, using advanced surgical techniques, such as double-row or suture-bridge repair, and appropriate postoperative rehabilitation plans could improve the success rates of RCR.

Future Research Directions

Though these RCTs provided significant insights, additional studies are necessary to further understand the biological and mechanical factors contributing to RCR failure. Future research should focus on the role of growth factors and stem cells in improving tendon healing, as well as the development of novel surgical materials and techniques to enhance repair integrity.


RCR failure is a multifaceted issue, impacted by patient factors, surgical techniques, and postoperative rehabilitation strategies. Despite improvements in surgical technology, a notable failure rate persists. By recognizing these contributory factors and employing prevention strategies, clinicians can optimize patient outcomes and decrease healthcare costs associated with RCR failure. Continuing research and understanding of the underlying mechanisms will facilitate the evolution of more effective management approaches.

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