We’re all familiar with the phrase “lesser of two evils,” but I’m an optimist and prefer the phrase “better of two goods.” In the October 2, 2019 issue of JBJS, Ramme et al. compare surgical versus nonsurgical treatment of full-thickness rotator cuff tears. Both cohorts had improved outcomes relative to baseline, but surgical management was the better of two goods.
The authors retrospectively analyzed a prospective cohort of adult patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears who had elected either surgical or nonsurgical treatment. Ramme et al. utilized propensity score matching to pair up patients in each group according to factors thought to influence outcome, such as age, sex, tear size, chronicity, muscle atrophy, and the Functional Comorbidity Index. This matched-pair analysis is a valiant attempt to eliminate bias that is inherent in retrospective analyses, and this study design also mimics the real-world scenario of shared decision making between physician and patient.
The 2-year follow-up analysis of 107 propensity score-matched patients revealed that both groups improved in 4 patient-reported functional outcomes and pain compared to their baseline measures before treatment. However, the final outcome measurements and magnitude of improvement were statistically greater in the surgical management group (p <0.001).
This study will help shoulder surgeons have more meaningful discussions with their patients about treatment options for full-thickness rotator cuff tears. We know that with proper treatment—either surgical or nonsurgical—patients can expect improvement in pain and function. However, patients who elect surgical management may have the potential for even greater outcomes, and that definitely sounds like the “better of two goods.”
Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media