Pulley lesions in rotator cuff tears: prevalence, etiology, and concomitant pathologies

Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2017 Aug;137(8):1097-1105. doi: 10.1007/s00402-017-2721-z. Epub 2017 May 29.


Purpose: This study aimed to demonstrate the prevalence of lesions in the biceps pulley complex in a representative, consecutive series of rotator cuff tears and rotator cuff interval treatments. We also analyzed associated tear pattern of rotator cuff injuries and superior labrum anterior-posterior (SLAP) lesions. We evaluated the relationships of these lesions to traumatic genesis and the prevalence of pulley lesions in revision cases.

Methods: This retrospective study analyzed all pre- and intra-operative documentation on arthroscopic rotator cuff reconstructions and isolated pulley lesion treatments performed by a single surgeon over 2 consecutive years. According to Habermeyer et al., we classified cases into four groups, based on the presence of additional or related complete or partial rotator cuff tears, SLAP lesions, trauma, and primary or revision surgery.

Results: Among 382 patients with rotator cuff tears, 345 (90.3%) had an injured pulley system; 151 (43.8%) had partial tears of the rotator cuff; out of these, 106 (30.6%) were articular-sided. All of these articular-sided partial tears showed extension into the pulley complex. In 154 cases (44.6%), history of shoulder trauma was associated with the beginning of symptoms. In addition, concomitant SLAP lesions occurred in 25-62% of pulley lesions, correlating with the severity of pulley lesions. Among the 345 cases, there have been 32 (9.3%) revision cases where a pulley lesion was intra-operatively identified and addressed.

Conclusions: Pulley complex lesions are present in 90.3% of surgically treated rotator cuff lesions, particularly in articular-sided injuries. In addition, we found a significant relationship between the incidence of SLAP lesions and the severity of pulley lesions. It seems reasonable to assume an important role of pulley system injuries in the pathogenesis of rotator cuff lesions.

Keywords: Arthroscopy; LHB; Long head of biceps; Pulley lesion; Rotator cuff interval; Rotator cuff lesion; Shoulder surgery; Trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Arthroscopy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries* / epidemiology
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries* / surgery
  • Shoulder Joint / surgery*