Full-thickness tears of the rotator cuff are common, but there is no clear consensus regarding indications for rotator cuff surgery. Because some patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears who are asymptomatic or symptomatic can be successfully treated nonoperatively, clinical outcome studies of rotator cuff repair should describe the subjects in detail to allow appropriate interpretation of the results. However, we hypothesized the indications for surgery are poorly described in outcome studies of rotator cuff surgery. We undertook a detailed literature review over 11 years of six major orthopaedic journals to assess whether the indications for surgery were described adequately in studies of rotator cuff repair. Eighty-six papers fit the criteria for the study and were reviewed. Limitations of activities of daily living (31%), failure of nonoperative treatment (52%), duration of nonoperative treatment (26%), and history of nocturnal pain (16%) were reported in a minority of papers overall. The patients' characteristics and indications for surgery were not described in a majority of clinical outcome studies of rotator cuff repair. It is important for these factors to be considered and reported because, without this information, the reasons for and results of rotator cuff repair are difficult to interpret.
Level of evidence: Level III, prognostic study. See the Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.