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J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2010 Oct;19(7):1034-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2010.04.006. Epub 2010 Jul 24.

Does slower rehabilitation after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair lead to long-term stiffness?

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  • 1Leni & Peter May Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY 10029, USA.



Conservative rehabilitation after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair does not result in long-term stiffness and improves rates of tendon healing.


We retrospectively evaluated 43 patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears who underwent a standardized, conservative protocol of full-time sling immobilization without formal therapy for 6 weeks after arthroscopic repair. At 6 to 8 weeks of follow-up, we categorized patients as "stiff" if they demonstrated forward elevation of less than 100° and external rotation of less than 30° passively; all others were designated "nonstiff." Active range of motion in forward elevation, external rotation, and internal rotation was assessed at 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) and Constant-Murley scores were assessed at 1 year. Follow-up magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was obtained in all patients to assess tendon healing.


Ten patients (23%) were considered stiff after rotator cuff surgery. At 1 year, there was no difference in mean forward elevation (166° vs 161°, P = .2), external rotation (62° vs. 58.4°, P = .5), or internal rotation (T7.4 vs T8.2, P = .07) between the stiff and nonstiff groups, respectively. There were no differences in final ASES (83 vs 79, P = .57) and Constant-Murley scores (77 vs. 74, P = .5). Repeat MRI suggested a trend toward a lower retear rate among the stiff patients (70% intact in stiff group vs 36% in nonstiff group, P = .079). Two clinically significant cuff retears occurred in the nonstiff cohort.


Concerns for recalcitrant stiffness have led some to favor early postoperative therapy. We found that early restriction of motion did not lead to long-term stiffness after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, even in patients who were clinically stiff in the early postoperative period.


Sling immobilization for 6 weeks after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair does not result in increased long-term stiffness and may improve the rate of tendon healing.

Copyright © 2010 Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Board of Trustees. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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