Systematic review: nonoperative and operative treatments for rotator cuff tears

Ann Intern Med. 2010 Aug 17;153(4):246-55. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-153-4-201008170-00263. Epub 2010 Jul 5.


Background: Many approaches exist for managing rotator cuff tears.

Purpose: To compare the benefits and harms of nonoperative and operative interventions on clinically important outcomes in adults with rotator cuff tears.

Data sources: 12 electronic databases (1990 to September 2009), gray literature, trial registries, and reference lists were searched.

Study selection: Controlled and uncontrolled studies that assessed nonoperative or operative treatments or postoperative rehabilitation for adults with confirmed rotator cuff tears were included. Operative studies in English-language publications and nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation studies in English, French, or German were considered. Studies were assessed in duplicate.

Data extraction: 2 reviewers assessed risk for bias by using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool and the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. One reviewer rated the evidence by using a modified GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation) approach. Data were extracted by one reviewer and verified by another.

Data synthesis: 137 studies met eligibility criteria. All trials had high risk for bias. Cohort and uncontrolled studies were of moderate quality. Reported functional outcomes did not differ between open versus mini-open repair, mini-open versus arthroscopic repair, arthroscopic repair with versus without acromioplasty, or single-row versus double-row fixation. Earlier return to work was reported for mini-open repair versus open repair and for continuous passive motion with physical therapy versus physical therapy alone. Open repairs showed greater improvement in function than did arthroscopic debridement. Complication rates were low across all interventions.

Limitations: Limited evidence, which was often of low quality, precluded conclusions for most comparisons. Language restrictions may have excluded some relevant studies, and selective outcome reporting may have introduced bias.

Conclusion: Evidence on the comparative effectiveness and harms of various operative and nonoperative treatments for rotator cuff tears is limited and inconclusive.

Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Orthopedic Procedures / methods
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Research Design / standards
  • Rotator Cuff / physiology
  • Rotator Cuff / surgery
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries*
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Viscosupplements / therapeutic use
  • Wounds and Injuries / surgery
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Steroids
  • Viscosupplements
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hyaluronic Acid