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Shoulder & Elbow

Surgical repair versus conservative treatment and subacromial decompression for the treatment of rotator cuff tears

a meta-analysis of randomized trials

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The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of surgical repair to conservative treatment and subacromial decompression for the treatment of chronic/degenerative tears of the rotator cuff.

Materials and Methods

PubMed, Cochrane database, and Medline were searched for randomized controlled trials published until March 2018. Included studies were assessed for methodological quality, and data were extracted for statistical analysis. The systematic review was conducted following PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines.


Six studies were included. Surgical repair resulted in a statistically significantly better Constant–Murley Score (CMS) at one year compared with conservative treatment (mean difference 6.15; p = 0.002) and subacromial decompression alone (mean difference 5.81; p = 0.0004). In the conservatively treated group, 11.9% of patients eventually crossed over to surgical repair.


The results of this review show that surgical repair results in significantly improved outcomes when compared with either conservative treatment or subacromial decompression alone for degenerative rotator cuff tears in older patients. However, the magnitude of the difference in outcomes between surgery and conservative treatment may be small and the ‘success rate’ of conservative treatment may be high, allowing surgeons to be judicious in choosing those patients who are most likely to benefit from surgery.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2019;101-B:1100–1106.

Correspondence should be sent to A. Nauth; email:

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