Background: Massive tears of the tendons of the rotator cuff cause atrophy and fatty degeneration of the rotator cuff muscles and painful loss of function of the shoulder. Repair of massive rotator cuff tears is often followed by retears of the tendons, additional muscular degeneration, and a poor clinical outcome. The purposes of this study were to determine whether a new method of repair of rotator cuff tendons can yield a lower retear rate and a better clinical outcome than previously reported methods, to assess the muscular changes following repair of massive tears of the musculotendinous units, and to correlate findings on magnetic resonance imaging with the clinical results.
Methods: Twenty-nine massive rotator cuff tears involving complete detachment of at least two tendons were repaired operatively with use of a new laboratory-tested technique in a prospective study. At least two years (average, thirty-seven months; range, twenty-four to sixty-one months) postoperatively, twenty-seven patients were evaluated clinically and with magnetic resonance imaging to determine the clinical outcome, the integrity of the repair, and the condition of the rotator cuff muscles.
Results: The age and gender-adjusted Constant score improved from an average of 49 percent preoperatively to an average of 85 percent postoperatively, corresponding to a subjective shoulder value of 78 percent of that of a normal shoulder. Pain-free flexion improved from an average of 92 degrees to an average of 142 degrees, and abduction improved from an average of 82 degrees to an average of 137 degrees. Pain decreased and performance of activities of daily living improved significantly (p < 0.05). The seventeen patients who had a structurally successful repair all had an excellent clinical outcome. Muscle atrophy could not be reversed except in successfully repaired supraspinatus musculotendinous units. Fatty degeneration increased in all muscles.
Conclusions: The method of repair of massive rotator cuff tears that was used in this study yielded a comparatively low retear rate and good-to-excellent clinical results; however, the repair did not result in substantial reversal of muscular atrophy and fatty degeneration. Retears occurred more often in patients who had had a shorter interval between the onset of the symptoms and the operation (p < 0.05). Patients who had a retear had improvement of the shoulder compared with the preoperative state, but they had less improvement than did those who had a successful repair.