Introduction: We review the literature and highlight the important factors to consider when counselling patients with non-traumatic rotator cuff tears on which route to take. Factors include the clinical outcomes of surgical and non-surgical routes, tendon healing rates with surgery (radiological outcome) and natural history of the tears if treated non-operatively.
Methods: A PRISMA-compliant search was carried out, including the online databases PubMed and Embase™ from 1960 to the end of June 2018.
Findings: A total of 49 of the 743 (579 PubMed and 164 Embase™) results yielded by the preliminary search were included in the review. There is no doubt that the non-surgical route with an appropriate physiotherapy programme has a role in the management of degenerative rotator cuff tears. This is especially the case in patients with significant risk factors for surgery, those who do not wish to go through a surgical treatment and those with small, partial and irreparable tears. However, rotator cuff repair has a good clinical outcome with significant improvements in pain, range of motion, strength, quality of life and sleep patterns.
Keywords: Degenerative; Impingement; Repair; Rotator cuff tears; Shoulder.