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Arthroscopy. 2011 Apr;27(4):568-80. doi: 10.1016/j.arthro.2010.09.019.

Multimedia article. The arthroscopic management of partial-thickness rotator cuff tears: a systematic review of the literature.

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Division of Sports Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA.



There is currently limited information available in the orthopaedic surgery literature regarding the appropriate management of symptomatic partial-thickness rotator cuff tears.


A systematic search was performed in PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials of all published literature pertaining to the arthroscopic management of partial-thickness rotator cuff tears. Inclusion criteria were all studies that reported clinical outcomes after arthroscopic treatment of both articular-sided and bursal-sided lesions using a validated outcome scoring system and a minimum of 12 months of follow-up. Data abstracted from the selected studies included tear type and location (articular v bursal sided), treatment approach, postoperative rehabilitation protocol, outcome scores, patient satisfaction, and postoperative imaging results.


Sixteen studies met the inclusion criteria and were included for the final analysis. Seven of the studies treated partial-thickness rotator cuff tears with debridement with or without an associated subacromial decompression, 3 performed a takedown and repair, 5 used a transtendon repair technique, and 1 used a transosseous repair method. Among the 16 studies reviewed, excellent postoperative outcomes were reported in 28.7% to 93% of patients treated. In all 12 studies with available preoperative baseline data, treatment resulted in significant improvement in shoulder symptoms and function. For high-grade lesions, the data support arthroscopic takedown and repair, transtendon repairs, and transosseous repairs, with all 3 techniques providing a high percentage of excellent results. Debridement of partial-thickness tears of less than 50% of the tendon's thickness with or without a concomitant acromioplasty also results in good to excellent surgical outcomes; however, a 6.5% to 34.6% incidence of progression to full-thickness tears is present.


This systematic review of 16 clinical studies showed that significant variation is present in the results obtained after the arthroscopic management of partial-thickness rotator cuff tears. What can be supported by the available data is that tears that involve less than 50% of the tendon can be treated with good results by debridement of the tendon with or without a formal acromioplasty, although subsequent tear progression may occur. When the tear is greater than 50%, surgical intervention focusing on repair has been successful. There is no evidence to suggest a differential in outcome for tear completion and repair versus transtendon repair of these lesions because both methods have been shown to result in favorable outcomes.


Level IV, systematic review of Level IV studies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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