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Treatment Options for Massive Irreparable Rotator Cuff Tears


Purpose of review

Massive irreparable rotator cuff tears present a significant challenge to the orthopedic surgeon. No single treatment, particularly among joint-preserving options, has been shown to be superior. The purpose of this review is to discuss recent advances in the treatment of massive irreparable rotator cuff tears, including partial repair with and without graft augmentation, interposition grafts, superior capsule reconstruction, subacromial balloon spacers, tendon transfer, and reverse total shoulder arthroplasty. We will also offer guidance on surgical indications based on our clinical experience.

Recent findings

Partial repair may offer reasonable clinical improvement for patients with lower preoperative function despite high re-tear rates. Additionally, several types of interposition grafts have shown promising short-term results and may outperform repair alone. Subacromial balloon spacers may lead to clinical improvement, especially in patients without glenohumeral osteoarthritis or pseudoparalysis, and recently received FDA approval for use in the USA. Superior capsule reconstruction is a technically demanding procedure that appears to produce excellent short-term results particularly when performed at high volume, but long-term studies in heterogeneous study groups are needed. Tendon transfers improve function by restoring force coupling in the shoulder, offering a promising option for younger patients. Reverse total shoulder arthroplasty (RTSA) is a reliable option for treatment of irreparable cuff tears in elderly patients with lower functional demands. Irreparable cuff tears remain a difficult condition to treat. Recommended treatment for younger patients without glenohumeral osteoarthritis is particularly controversial. For older patients with low-demand lifestyles and glenohumeral osteoarthritis, RTSA is an effective treatment option. For all discussed procedures, patient selection appears to play a critical role in clinical outcomes.

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