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OBJECTIVES: The effects of disease progression and common tendinopathy treatments on the tissue characteristics of human rotator cuff tendons have not previously been evaluated in detail owing to a lack of suitable sampling techniques. This study evaluated the structural characteristics of torn human supraspinatus tendons across the full disease spectrum, and the short-term effects of subacromial corticosteroid injections (SCIs) and subacromial decompression (SAD) surgery on these structural characteristics. METHODS: Samples were collected inter-operatively from supraspinatus tendons containing small, medium, large and massive full thickness tears (n = 33). Using a novel minimally invasive biopsy technique, paired samples were also collected from supraspinatus tendons containing partial thickness tears either before and seven weeks after subacromial SCI (n = 11), or before and seven weeks after SAD surgery (n = 14). Macroscopically normal subscapularis tendons of older patients (n = 5, mean age = 74.6 years) and supraspinatus tendons of younger patients (n = 16, mean age = 23.3) served as controls. Ultra- and micro-structural characteristics were assessed using atomic force microscopy and polarised light microscopy respectively. RESULTS: Significant structural differences existed between torn and control groups. Differences were identifiable early in the disease spectrum, and increased with increasing tear size. Neither SCI nor SAD surgery altered the structural properties of partially torn tendons seven weeks after treatment. CONCLUSIONS: These findings may suggest the need for early clinical intervention strategies for torn rotator cuff tendons in order to prevent further degeneration of the tissue as tear size increases. Further work is required to establish the long-term abilities of SCI and SAD to prevent, and even reverse, such degeneration. Cite this article: Bone Joint Res 2014;3:252-61.

Original publication




Journal article


Bone Joint Res

Publication Date





252 - 261


Partial tear; Supraspinatus tendon; Structural properties; Surgery; Corticosteroid injection