Rotator cuff tears (RCTs) are one of the primary causes of shoulder pain and dysfunction in the upper extremity accounting over 4.5 million physician visits per year with 250,000 rotator cuff repairs being performed annually in the U.S. While the tear is often considered an injury to a specific tendon/tendons and consequently treated as such, there are secondary effects of RCTs that may have significant consequences for shoulder function. Specifically, RCTs have been shown to affect the joint cartilage, bone, the ligaments, as well as the remaining intact tendons of the shoulder joint. Injuries associated with the upper extremities account for the largest percent of workplace injuries. Unfortunately, the variable success rate related to RCTs motivates the need for a better understanding of the biomechanical consequences associated with the shoulder injuries. Understanding the timing of the injury and the secondary anatomic consequences that are likely to have occurred are also of great importance in treatment planning because the approach to the treatment algorithm is influenced by the functional and anatomic state of the rotator cuff and the shoulder complex in general. In this review, we summarized the contribution of RCTs to joint stability in terms of both primary (injured tendon) and secondary (remaining tissues) consequences including anatomic changes in the tissues surrounding the affected tendon/tendons. The mechanical basis of normal shoulder joint function depends on the balance between active muscle forces and passive stabilization from the joint surfaces, capsular ligaments, and labrum. Evaluating the role of all tissues working together as a system for maintaining joint stability during function is important to understand the effects of RCT, specifically in the working population, and may provide insight into root causes of shoulder injury.

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