Purpose: Comparative evidence on treating rotator cuff tear is inconclusive. The objective of this review was to evaluate the evidence on effectiveness of tendon repair in reducing pain and improving function of the shoulder when compared with conservative treatment of symptomatic rotator cuff tear.
Method: Search on CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Web of Science and Pedro databases. Randomised controlled trials (RCT) comparing surgery and conservative treatment of rotator cuff tear. Study selection and extraction based on the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic reviews of Interventions. Random effects meta-analysis.
Results: Three identified RCTs involved 252 participants (123 cases and 129 controls). The risk of bias was considered low for all three RCTs. For Constant score, statistically insignificant effect size was 5.6 (95% CI -0.41 to 11.62) points in 1-year follow up favouring surgery and below the level of minimal clinically important difference. The respective difference in pain reduction was -0.93 (95% CI -1.65 to -0.21) cm on a 0-10 pain visual analogue scale favouring surgery. The difference was statistically significant (p = 0.012) in 1-year follow up but below the level of minimal clinically important difference.
Conclusion: There is limited evidence that surgery is not more effective in treating rotator cuff tear than conservative treatment alone. Thus, a conservative approach is advocated as the initial treatment modality. Implications for Rehabilitation There is limited evidence that surgery is not more effective in treating rotator cuff tear than conservative treatment alone. There was no clinically significant difference between surgery and active physiotherapy in 1-year follow-up in improving Constant score or reducing pain caused by rotator cuff tear. As physiotherapy is less proneness to complications and less expensive than surgery, a conservative approach is advocated as the initial treatment modality to rotator cuff tears.
Keywords: Conservative treatment; meta-analysis; repair; rotator cuff tear; surgery.