Background: Rotator cuff disease or injury is one of the most frequently seen orthopaedic conditions, and surgical repair of rotator cuff tears is a common procedure. A prospective analysis of the operation, with consistent assessment of patient characteristics, variables associated with the rotator cuff tear and repair techniques, and outcome factors, was performed.
Methods: One hundred and five shoulders with a chronic rotator cuff tear underwent open surgical repair and acromioplasty between 1975 and 1983. The patients were followed for an average of 13.4 years (range, two to twenty-two years). There were sixteen small tears, forty medium tears, thirty-eight large tears, and eleven massive tears. The tears were repaired directly (seventy-two tears), by V-Y plasty (twelve), by tendon transposition (twenty), or by reinforcement with a fascia lata graft (one). The long head of the biceps had been previously torn in eleven shoulders and was tenodesed in three other shoulders. In fifty-six shoulders, the distal part of the clavicle was excised for treatment of degenerative arthritic changes, often associated with osteophyte formation.
Results: Satisfactory pain relief was obtained in ninety-six shoulders (p < 0.0001). There was significant improvement in active abduction (p < 0.001) and external rotation (p < 0.007) as well as in strength in these directions of movement (p < 0.03 and p < 0.002, respectively). At the latest follow-up evaluation, the result was rated as excellent for sixty-eight shoulders, satisfactory for sixteen, and unsatisfactory for twenty-one. Tear size was the most important determinant of outcome with regard to active motion, strength, rating of the result, patient satisfaction, and need for a reoperation. Older age, less preoperative active motion, preoperative weakness, distal clavicular excision, and a transposition repair technique were all associated with larger tear size. There were eight reoperations; five were for rerepair of a persistent or recurrent rotator cuff tear.
Conclusions: Standard tendon repair techniques combined with anterior acromioplasty, postoperative limb protection, and monitored physiotherapy can produce consistent and lasting pain relief and improvement in range of motion. Improving the results of this procedure will depend upon the development of new techniques to address the active motion and strength deficiencies following repair of massive rotator cuff tears.