Scapular motion in the presence of rotator cuff tears: a systematic review

MRAB Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Rotator cuff tears (RCTs) remain a significant source of pain and disability in the shoulder. Although much work has been done in the study of the effects of rotator cuff tears on glenohumeral joint motion, much less has been done in understanding the effect of rotator cuff tearing on scapular motion or activation. It remains unknown whether scapular dyskinesis is causative or adaptive. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the literature to determine the relationship between rotator cuff tear presence and size on scapular motion, and if rotator cuff repair restored normal motion. Methods: A systematic review using PRISMA guidelines was accomplished to include all studies with biomechanical or clinical outcomes of scapular motion in the presence of RCTs. Studies were excluded if they involved shoulder arthroplasty, rotator cuff tendinopathy, or shoulder impingement without an RCT. From 530 initial references, 42 manuscripts were selected for full review and cross referenced. All studies were evaluated for inclusion and exclusion criteria. Results: Sixteen studies including 335 rotator cuff tears were included in the final review. There were several findings of interest in the literature. First, although all studies demonstrated scapular dyskinesis, they did not report a consistent pattern of motion in the presence of an RCT. In general, scapular posterior tilt was decreased, and scapular upward rotation was increased, especially in large tears, but the literature was unclear as to whether this was a result of the RCT or an adaptive attempt to maintain elevation. Larger RCTs resulted in more pronounced scapular dysfunction, but there was significant variability within studies. Further, dyskinesis was confounded by pain with more abnormal movement in symptomatic vs. asymptomatic RCTs, the latter of which were not different from normal healthy controls. Four studies addressed the effect of RCT on scapular mechanics and found that repair consistently improved it compared to the normal side, but the time to normalization varied between 5 months and 2 years. Conclusion: Scapular motion is abnormal in the presence of an RCT, but the literature is inconsistent regarding a universally affected variable or consistent degree of scapular dysfunction in this setting. Furthermore, it remains unknown which changes are adaptive vs. pathologic. Understanding the relationship between rotator cuff tearing and scapular dyskinesis will require better biomechanical models that consider scapular dyskinesis in their design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1679-1692
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Kinesiology
  • Scapular dyskinesis
  • Systematic Review
  • cuff substitution
  • rotator cuff tear
  • scapular compensation


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