Shoulder activity level and progression of degenerative cuff disease

Jay D. Keener, Nathan W. Skelley, Georgia Stobbs-Cucchi, Karen Steger-May, Aaron M. Chamberlain, Alex W. Aleem, Robert H. Brophy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: This study prospectively examined the relationship of direct and indirect measures of shoulder activity with the risks of tear progression and pain development in subjects with an asymptomatic degenerative rotator cuff tear. Methods: A cohort of asymptomatic degenerative rotator cuff tears was prospectively monitored annually, documenting tear size progression with ultrasound imaging and potential shoulder pain development. Shoulder activity level, self-reported occupational and physical demand level, and hand dominance were compared with risks of tear enlargement and future pain development. Results: The study monitored 346 individuals with a mean age of 62.1 years for a median duration of 4.1 years (interquartile range [IQR], 2.4-7.9 years). Tear enlargement was seen in 177 shoulders (51.2%), and pain developed in 161 shoulders (46.5%) over time. Tear presence in the dominant shoulder was associated with a greater risk of tear enlargement (hazard ratio, 1.40; P =.03) and pain development (hazard ratio, 1.63; P =.002). Shoulder activity level (P =.37) and occupational demand level (P =.62) were not predictive of tear enlargement. Occupational demand categories of manual labor (P =.047) and “in between” (P =.045) had greater risks of pain development than sedentary demands. The median shoulder activity score for shoulders that became painful was lower than for shoulders that remained asymptomatic (10.0 [IQR, 7.0-13.0] vs. 11.0 [IQR, 8.0-14.0], P =.02). Conclusions: Tear enlargement and pain development in asymptomatic tears are more common with involvement of the dominant shoulder. Shoulder activity level is not related to tear progression risks. Pain development is associated with a lower shoulder activity level even though patients with higher occupational demands are more likely to develop pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1500-1507
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Rotator cuff
  • activity level
  • cuff tears
  • degenerative
  • enlargement
  • occupation


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