In order to compare the outcome from surgical repair and physiotherapy, 103 patients with symptomatic small and medium-sized tears of the rotator cuff were randomly allocated to one of the two approaches. The primary outcome measure was the Constant score, and secondary outcome measures included the self-report section of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons score, the Short Form 36 Health Survey and subscores for shoulder movement, pain, strength and patient satisfaction. Scores were taken at baseline and after six and 12 months by a blinded assessor. Nine patients (18%) with insufficient benefit from physiotherapy after at least 15 treatment sessions underwent secondary surgical treatment. Analysis of between-group differences showed better results for the surgery group on the Constant scale (difference 13.0 points, p - 0.002), on the American Shoulder and Elbow surgeons scale (difference 16.1 points, p < 0.0005), for pain-free abduction (difference 28.8 degrees , p = 0.003) and for reduction in pain (difference on a visual analogue scale -1.7 cm, p < 0.0005).