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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Conservatively Treated Symptomatic Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy May Progress to a Tear

Noah J Quinlan, Jeffrey J Frandsen, Karch M Smith, Chao-Chin Lu, Peter N Chalmers, Robert Z Tashjian
Arthroscopy, sports medicine, and rehabilitation 2022, 4 (4): e1449-e1455
36033187

Purpose: To determine the likelihood of, and risk factors for, progression of rotator cuff tendinopathy to tear on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in patients treated conservatively for minimum 1 year.

Methods: Patients in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Corporate Data Warehouse with a diagnosis of rotator cuff injury and sequential MRI of the same shoulder at least 1 year apart were identified. Presenting MRIs were reviewed to select patients with tendinopathy, while excluding those with a normal appearing cuff, tear, or prior repair. Tear progression was defined as development of a partial or full-thickness tear on follow-up MRI. Chart review was performed for demographic and clinical data. Descriptive statistics and inter-observer and intra-observer reliability were calculated. Discrete and continuous variables were compared between patients who progressed and those who did not using chi-square, Fisher's Exact, Student's t , and Mann-Whitney U -test.

Results: In the VHA database, 135 patients had an initial MRI demonstrating rotator cuff tendinopathy. On subsequent MRI at mean 3.4 year follow-up, 39% of patients had progressed to a tear. When grouped on the basis of time between scans as 1 to 2 years, 2 to 5 years, or over 5 years, the rate of progression was 32%, 37%, and 54% respectively. No factors were associated with progression.

Conclusions: Among patients with symptomatic rotator cuff tendinopathy that remained symptomatic at a minimum of 1 year and obtained a follow-up MRI, 39% progressed to a partial or full-thickness tear. None of the factors evaluated in this study correlated with progression from tendinopathy to tear. When patients were grouped based on time between scans as 1 to 2 years, 2 to 5 years, or more than 5 years, the rate of progression from tendinopathy to tear was 32%, 37%, and 54%, respectively.

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