Background: The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate the effectiveness of rehabilitation programmes following surgical repair of the rotator cuff with emphasis upon length of immobilisation and timing of introduction of load.
Methods: An electronic search of CENTRAL, MEDLINE and PEDro was undertaken to August 2014 and supplemented by hand searching. Randomised controlled trials were included, quality appraised using the PEDro scale and synthesised via meta-analysis or narrative synthesis, based upon levels of evidence, where appropriate.
Results: Twelve studies were included. There is strong evidence that early initiation of rehabilitation does not adversely affect clinical outcome but there is a marginally higher, statistically non-significant, incidence of tendon re-tear (OR 1.3; 95% CI 0.72 to 2.2). There is strong evidence that initiation of functional loading early in the rehabilitation programme does not adversely affect clinical outcome.
Discussion: Concern about early initiation of rehabilitation and introduction of gradual functional load does not appear warranted but this should be considered in a context of potential for Type II error. There is further need to evaluate approaches that foster early initiation of rehabilitation and gradual introduction of functional load as well as considering key outcomes such as return to work.
Keywords: Physiotherapy; rehabilitation; rotator cuff; surgery; systematic review.