The Effect of Rotator Cuff Repair on Natural History: A Systematic Review of Intermediate to Long-Term Outcomes

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Abstract

Background:

Rotator cuff disease can have a progressive natural history of increasing tear size and worsening function. It remains unknown whether rotator cuff repair alters this natural history.

Methods:

A systematic review of the intermediate to long-term (minimum 5-year) results of operative rotator cuff repair and no repair of rotator cuff injuries was performed to compare (1) patient-based outcomes, (2) future surgical intervention, (3) future tear progression or recurrence, and (4) tear size. The no-repair group included both conservative treatment and surgical treatment without repair. After the application of selection criteria, 29 studies with 1,583 patients remained. Meta-regression was conducted to adjust for baseline age, sex, tear size, and duration of follow-up.

Results:

Comparison of the repair and no-repair groups revealed no significant differences in terms of age (p = 0.36), sex (p = 0.88), study level of evidence (p = 0.86), or Coleman methodology score (p = 0.8). The duration of follow-up was significantly longer for the no-repair group (p = 0.004), whereas baseline tear size was significantly larger in the repair group (p = 0.014). The percentage of patients requiring additional surgery was significantly higher in the no-repair group after adjustment for age, sex, duration of follow-up, and tear size (9.5% higher in estimated means between groups [95% confidence interval, 2.1% to 17%]; p = 0.012). The likelihood of a recurrent defect (repair group) or extension of the prior tear (no-repair group) was not different between groups after adjustment for age, sex, duration of follow-up, and tear size (p = 0.4). There were no differences between the repair and no-repair groups in terms of the Constant score after adjustment for age, sex, duration of follow-up, and tear size (p = 0.31). The final tear size was significantly larger in the no-repair group than the repair group (967 mm2 higher in estimated means between groups [95% confidence interval, 771 to 1,164 mm2]; p < 0.001).

Conclusions:

At intermediate to long-term follow-up, rotator cuff repair was associated with decreased final tear size and decreased need for future surgery after adjusting for age, sex, duration of follow-up, and tear size. The likelihood of a recurrent defect after rotator cuff repair did not differ from that of tear extension after nonoperative treatment. Thus, rotator cuff repair may not alter natural history.

Level of Evidence:

Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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