Is Early Passive Motion Exercise Necessary After Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair?

Authors: Kim YS, Chung SW, Kim JY, Ok JH, Park I, Oh JH.

References: Am J Sports Med. 2012 Jan 27.

Early passive motion exercise has been the standard rehabilitation protocol after rotator cuff repair for preventing postoperative stiffness. However, recent approaches show that longer immobilization may enhance tendon healing and quality.

To elucidate whether early passive motion exercise affects functional outcome and tendon healing after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.

Randomized controlled trial; Level of evidence, 1.

One hundred five consecutive patients who underwent arthroscopic repair for small to medium-sized full-thickness rotator cuff tears were included. Patients with large to massive tears and concomitant stiffness or labral lesions were excluded. Patients were instructed to wear an abduction brace for 4 to 5 weeks after surgery and to start active-assisted shoulder exercise after brace weaning. Fifty-six patients were randomly allocated into group 1: early passive motion exercises were conducted 3 to 4 times per day during the abduction brace-wearing period. Forty-nine patients were allocated into group 2: no passive motion was allowed during the same period. Range of motion (ROM) and visual analog scale (VAS) for pain were measured preoperatively and 3, 6, and 12 months postoperatively. Functional evaluations, including Constant score, Simple Shoulder Test (SST), and American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) score, were also evaluated at 6 and 12 months postoperatively. Ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging, or computed tomography arthrography was utilized to evaluate postoperative cuff healing.

There were no statistical differences between the 2 groups in ROM or VAS for pain at each time point. Functional evaluations were not statistically different between the 2 groups either. The final functional scores assessed at 12 months for groups 1 and 2 were as follows: Constant score, 69.81 ± 3.43 versus 69.83 ± 6.24 (P = .854); SST, 9.00 ± 2.12 versus 9.00 ± 2.59 (P = .631); and ASES score, 73.29 ± 18.48 versus 82.90 ± 12.35 (P = .216). Detachment of the repaired cuff was identified in 12% of group 1 and 18% of group 2 (P = .429).

Early passive motion exercise after arthroscopic cuff repair did not guarantee early gain of ROM or pain relief but also did not negatively affect cuff healing. We suggest that early passive motion exercise is not mandatory after arthroscopic repair of small to medium-sized full-thickness rotator cuff tears, and postoperative rehabilitation can be modified to ensure patient compliance.


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