Treatment Options and Clinical Outcomes for Massive Rotator Cuff Tears


Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of shoulder pain and disability, affecting millions of people globally. These tears are particularly prevalent in the elderly, with an age-dependent increase in occurrence. Other associated factors include a history of trauma, limb dominance, contralateral shoulder, smoking status, hypercholesterolemia, posture, and occupational dispositions. The challenge lies in early diagnosis since a high proportion of patients are asymptomatic. Pain and decreasing shoulder power and function should alert the practitioner in recognizing promptly the onset or aggravation of existing rotator cuff tears.

Epidemiology and Etiology

The prevalence of rotator cuff tears is significant, with studies showing a prevalence of 20.7% in the general population and 36% in patients with shoulder pain. The prevalence increases with age, reaching up to 62% in patients aged 80 years and older. Factors such as aging, shoulder overuse, smoking, obesity, and metabolic disorders like diabetes contribute to the development of these tears.

Diagnostic Methods

The diagnosis of rotator cuff tears is primarily based on the patient’s history and physical examination. However, imaging techniques such as ultrasonography (US), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and magnetic resonance arthrography (MRA) are increasingly being used to detect rotator cuff tears and assist in planning surgical treatment. These imaging tests have improved significantly over time, enabling useful assessment of the size and extent of the rotator cuff tear.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for rotator cuff tears range from non-operative to surgical interventions. Non-operative treatment includes physical therapy, activity modifications, and anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications. Surgical treatment is usually reserved for those who fail to improve after a period of conservative treatment. The choice of surgery varies from surgeon-to-surgeon with arthroscopy being the most common.

Clinical Outcomes and Prognosis

Many studies have demonstrated that the size of the tear is correlated to the final outcome; partial or small full-thickness tears usually have a satisfactory surgical result. However, outcomes may be guarded in patients in extremes of age, presence of comorbidities, and severe tear patterns.

Randomized Controlled Studies and Meta-analyses

A study by “Magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic resonance arthrography and ultrasonography for assessing rotator cuff tears in people with shoulder pain for whom surgery is being considered” compared the diagnostic test accuracy of MRI, MRA, and US for detecting rotator cuff tears. The study found that all three imaging methods were effective in diagnosing rotator cuff tears, but it was unclear if one method was superior to the others.

Another study titled “Rotator cuff repair with or without acromioplasty for patients with full thickness rotator cuff tears: a protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials” aimed to compare the effectiveness of rotator cuff repair with or without acromioplasty in patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears. The results of this study are yet to be published.


Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of shoulder pain and disability, particularly in the elderly. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial for optimal patient outcomes. Both non-operative and surgical treatments can be effective, depending on the patient’s individual circumstances. Further research is needed to determine the most effective diagnostic and treatment strategies for this condition.

For Full Research Paper:


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