Surgical Treatment Options for Partial Rotator Cuff Tears: A Review of the Literature

Jose Carlos Garcia Jr, Matheus R. Barcelos, Felipe Machado do Amaral, Mauricio de P. Raffaelli, Álvaro Mota Cardoso Jr.


Partial-thickness rotator cuff tears (PTRCT) can be articular-sided, bursal-sided or intratendinous. New research suggests that a considerable proportion (up to 30%) of cuff thickness on the articular side is taken up histologically by the superior joint capsule conjoined to the rotator cuff tissue. This means that newer reviews of the surgical options may be required to complement the Ellman classification which grades lesions as grade 1 (less than 25% of tendon thickness involved), grade 2 (25 – 50%) or grade 3 (greater than 50% of tendon thickness). If primary non-operative treatment fails, many surgical options can be considered. The surgical technique chosen has been based on depth of the tear and the tear location. Surgical treatment can be distinguished between debridement and repair of PTRCT’s, as well as biologically active experimental techniques showing some promise. Debridement can be successfully performed for bursal-sided Ellman grade 1 tears and articular-sided grade 1 and 2 tears. All other techniques show better results with a repair technique, which can be either performed with an in-situ or trans-cuff repair technique (leaving the intact rotator cuff portion intact) or with tear conversion to a full-thickness cuff tear and subsequent repair. Successful functional and structural outcome after repair of Ellman grade 3 tears can be shown with both repair techniques. The current literature also suggests evidence for inferior outcomes and higher failure rates after arthroscopic debridement of bursal-sided partial-thickness rotator cuff tears compared to articular-sided lesions, which may reflect the contribution of capsule to the tear. Articular-sided partial cuff tears are frequently seen in overhead athletes and should be treated non-operatively whenever possible. If conservative treatment fails, debridement seems to be a better surgical choice in most cases, as only a half of professional athletes return to the same level of play after repair of partial-thickness rotator cuff tears.


Partial-thickness; rotator cuff tears; Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair; Debridement; Conversion to full-thickness; Transtendon repair

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