Treatment of Nontraumatic Rotator Cuff Tears: A Randomized Controlled Trial with Two Years of Clinical and Imaging Follow-up

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2015 Nov 4;97(21):1729-37. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.N.01051.


Background: The optimal treatment for symptomatic, nontraumatic rotator cuff tear is unknown. The purpose of this trial was to compare the effectiveness of physiotherapy, acromioplasty, and rotator cuff repair for this condition. We hypothesized that rotator cuff repair yields superior results compared with other treatment modalities.

Methods: One hundred and eighty shoulders with symptomatic, nontraumatic, supraspinatus tears were randomized into one of three cumulatively designed intervention groups: the physiotherapy-only group (denoted as Group 1), the acromioplasty and physiotherapy group (denoted as Group 2), and the rotator cuff repair, acromioplasty, and physiotherapy group (denoted as Group 3). The Constant score was the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures were visual analog scale for pain, patient satisfaction, rotator cuff integrity in a control imaging investigation, and cost of treatment.

Results: One hundred and sixty-seven shoulders (160 patients) were available for analysis at two years. There were no significant differences (p = 0.38) in the mean change of Constant score: 18.4 points (95% confidence interval, 14.2 to 22.6 points) in Group 1, 20.5 points (95% confidence interval, 16.4 to 24.6 points) in Group 2, and 22.6 points (95% confidence interval, 18.4 to 26.8 points) in Group 3. There were no significant differences in visual analog scale for pain scores (p = 0.45) and patient satisfaction (p = 0.28) between the groups. At two years, the mean sagittal size of the tendon tear was significantly smaller (p < 0.01) in Group 3 (4.2 mm) compared with Groups 1 and 2 (11.0 mm). Rotator cuff repair and acromioplasty were significantly more expensive than physiotherapy only (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: There was no significant difference in clinical outcome between the three interventions at the two-year follow-up. The potential progression of the rotator cuff tear, especially in the non-repaired treatment groups, warrants further follow-up. On the basis of our findings, conservative treatment is a reasonable option for the primary initial treatment for isolated, symptomatic, nontraumatic, supraspinatus tears in older patients.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acromion / surgery*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthroplasty*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Joint Diseases / diagnosis
  • Joint Diseases / therapy*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries*
  • Shoulder Joint*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome