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Background: Rotator cuff repair provides pain relief for many patients; however, retears are relatively common and affect approximately 20%-70% of patients after repair. Although magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers the ability to assess tissue characteristics such as tear size, retraction, and fatty infiltration, it provides little insight into the quality of the musculotendinous tissues the surgeon will encounter during surgery. However, shear wave elastography (SWE) could provide an indirect assessment of quality (ie, stiffness) by measuring the speed of shear waves propagating through tissue. The objective of this study was to determine the extent to which estimated shear modulus predicts repair integrity and functional outcomes 1 year after rotator cuff repair.

Methods: Thirty-three individuals scheduled to undergo arthroscopic rotator cuff repair were enrolled in this study. Before surgery, shear modulus of the supraspinatus tendon and muscle was estimated using ultrasound SWE. MRIs were obtained before and 1 year after surgery to assess tear characteristics and repair integrity, respectively. Shoulder strength, range of motion, and patient-reported pain and function were assessed before and after surgery. Functional outcomes were compared between groups and across time using a two-factor mixed model analysis of variance. Stepwise regression with model comparison was used to investigate the extent to which MRI and shear modulus predicted repair integrity and function at 1 year after surgery.

Results: At 1 year after surgery, 56.5% of patients had an intact repair. No significant differences were found in any demographic variable, presurgical tear characteristic, or shear modulus between patients with an intact repair and those with a recurrent tear. Compared with presurgical measures, patients in both groups demonstrated significant improvements at 1 year after surgery in pain (P < .01), self-reported function (P < .01), range of motion (P < .01), and shoulder strength (P < .01). In addition, neither presurgical MRI variables (P > .16) nor shear modulus (P > .52) was significantly different between groups at 1 year after surgery. Finally, presurgical shear modulus generally did not improve the prediction of functional outcomes above and beyond that provided by MRI variables alone (P > .22).

Conclusion: Although SWE remains a promising modality for many clinical applications, this study found that SWE-estimated shear modulus did not predict repair integrity or functional outcomes at 1 year after surgery, nor did it add to the prediction of outcomes above and beyond that provided by traditional presurgical MRI measures of tear characteristics. Therefore, it appears that further research is needed to fully understand the clinical utility of SWE for musculoskeletal tissue and its potential use for predicting outcomes after surgical rotator cuff repair.

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