Risk Factors for Tear Progression in Symptomatic Rotator Cuff Tears: A Prospective Study of 174 Shoulders

Am J Sports Med. 2017 Sep;45(11):2524-2531. doi: 10.1177/0363546517709780. Epub 2017 Jun 13.


Background: The risk factors for tear progression in symptomatic rotator cuff tears have not been clarified yet. It is important for orthopaedic surgeons to know the natural course of tear progression when nonoperative management is to be chosen.

Hypothesis: Tears in younger patients, high-activity patients, or heavy laborers would progress in size more than those in older patients, low-activity patients, or light laborers.

Study design: Case-control study; Level of evidence, 3.

Methods: Two hundred twenty-five consecutive patients with symptomatic rotator cuff tears visited our institute between 2009 and 2015. Of these, 174 shoulders of 171 patients (mean age, 66.9 years) who underwent at least 2 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations were prospectively enrolled. The mean follow-up was 19 months. Tear progression was defined as positive when the tear size increased by ≥2 mm. The demographic factors that were analyzed by multivariate analysis included age, sex, hand dominance, smoking, alcohol drinking, hypercholesterolemia, sports participation, job type, tear size, and tear type (full or partial thickness).

Results: Of the 174 shoulders, 82 shoulders (47%) showed tear progression. The mean (±SD) tear length and width in the progression group on final MRI were 23.1 ± 12.5 mm and 17.3 ± 9.6 mm, respectively; the tear size progressed by a mean 5.8 ± 5.6 mm in length and 3.1 ± 5.2 mm in width. The mean propagation speed was 3.8 mm/y in length and 2.0 mm/y in width. The size of full-thickness tears significantly increased compared with that of articular-sided partial-thickness tears ( P = .0215). The size of medium tears significantly increased compared with that of other tears ( P < .0001). According to the logistic regression analysis, smoking was significantly correlated with tear progression ( P = .026). Subgroup analyses showed that male sex, hand dominance, and trauma were correlated with tear progression. Age, alcohol drinking, hypercholesterolemia, sports participation, and job type did not show any correlation with tear progression.

Conclusion: The tear size of symptomatic rotator cuff tears progressed in 47% of the shoulders during a mean of 19 months, and the speed of progression was 3.8 mm/y in length and 2.0 mm/y in width. The risk factors for tear progression were (1) a medium-sized tear, (2) a full-thickness tear, and (3) smoking.

Keywords: propagation speed; risk factor; rotator cuff tear; tear progression; tear propagation.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease Progression*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occupational Injuries*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / etiology*