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OBJECTIVES: To define the population prevalence of rotator cuff tears and test their association with pain and function loss; determine if severity symptom correlates with tear stage severity, and quantify the impact of symptomatic rotator cuff tears on primary healthcare services in a general population cohort of women. DESIGN: Cross-sectional observational study. PARTICIPANTS: Individuals were part of the Chingford 1000 Women cohort, a 20-year-old longitudinal population study comprising 1003 women aged between 64 and 87, and representative of the population of the UK. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Rotator cuff pathology prevalence on ultrasound, shoulder symptoms using the Oxford Shoulder Score and resultant number of general practitioner (GP) consultations. RESULTS: The population prevalence of full-thickness tears was 22.2%, which increased with age (p=0.004) and whether it was the dominant arm (Relative Risk 1.64, OR 1.58, 95% CI 1.07 to 2.33, p=0.021).Although 48.4% of full-thickness tears were asymptomatic, there was an association between rotator cuff tears and patient-reported symptoms. Individuals with at least one full-thickness tear were 1.97 times more likely than those with bilateral normal tendons (OR 3.53, 95% CI 2.00 to 5.61, p<0.001) to have symptoms. Severity of symptoms was not related to the severity of the pathology until tears are >2.5 cm (p=0.009).In the cohort, 8.9% had seen their GP with shoulder pain and a full-thickness rotator cuff tear, 18.8% with shoulder pain and an abnormality and 29.3% with shoulder pain. CONCLUSION: Rotator cuff tears are common, and primary care services are heavily impacted. As 50% of tears remain asymptomatic, future research may investigate the cause of pain and whether different treatment modalities, aside from addressing the pathology, need further investigation.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





Diagnostic radiology, Musculoskeletal disorders, Shoulder, Ultrasonography, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Health Services, Humans, Lacerations, Middle Aged, Prevalence, Rotator Cuff, Rotator Cuff Injuries, Rupture, Shoulder Pain, United Kingdom, Young Adult