Current Concepts: Rotator Cuff Pathology in Athletes — A Source of Pain or Adaptive Pathology?

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings are common in patients and athletes with shoulder pain. Historically these anatomic derangements have been thought to be the source of the patient’s symptoms, and approaches have been focused on restoring the anatomy. This manuscript will address three objectives: 1) suggest that the approach to rotator cuff disease should be based on the patient’s history and physical examination, and not necessarily on the anatomic disorders apparent on imaging; 2) review the data that supports the contention that rotator cuff disease is not the source of pain in the symptomatic shoulder, and 3) describe the concept of adaptive pathology. The findings on the MRI in the thrower’s painful shoulder may be adaptive, and these alterations may be required to allow performance at high levels in sport.

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