Definition of the terms “acute” and “traumatic” in rotator cuff injuries: a systematic review and call for standardization in nomenclature

Jonas Pogorzelski, Bernd Erber, Alexander Themessl, Marco Christopher Rupp, Matthias J. Feucht, Andreas B. Imhoff, Hannes Degenhardt, Markus Irger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Although of high relevance for clinical decision making, there exists no consensus throughout the literature of the terms “acute” and “traumatic” used in the classification of rotator cuff tears. With differing definitions, the comparability of outcome studies may be limited. The aim was to provide a detailed systematic review of the definitions used in the literature and present a suggestion for a standardization in nomenclature based on the findings. Methods: Four different internet databases were searched in February 2020 using the terms (“acute” OR “traumatic” OR “trauma” OR “athlete” OR “young”) AND (“rotator cuff tears” OR “rotator cuff tear” OR “rotator cuff” OR “rotator cuff rupture” OR “supraspinatus” OR “infraspinatus” OR “subscapularis” OR “teres minor”). Prospective, retrospective, cohort and case–control studies as well as case series were included. Systematic reviews, cadaveric or laboratory studies and studies on non-traumatic or non-acute rotator cuff tears were excluded. Results: The literature search conducted 10,349 articles of which 10,151 were excluded based on the title, 119 based on the abstract and 33 based on the manuscript. A total of 46 studies were finally included for review and subsequently analyzed. Overall, there exists no consensus neither on the term “acute” nor on “traumatic” in the context of rotator cuff tears in the literature. The time span for acute injuries ranged between 2 weeks and 6 months. For traumatic injuries, only 20% of the selected studies described a specific and adequate injury mechanism in combination with adequate imaging. Conclusion: The term “acute” should be reserved for RCT showing muscle edema, wavelike appearance of the central part of the torn tendon and joint effusion, which typically requires adequate imaging within 2 weeks from trauma. Repair of acute tears should occur within 8 weeks from trauma to benefit from possibly superior biological healing capacities. The term “traumatic” should be used for a sudden onset of symptoms in a previously asymptomatic patient, triggered by an adequate trauma, e.g., a fall on the retroverted arm with an axial cranioventral force or a traumatic shoulder dislocation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-91
Number of pages17
JournalArchives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute
  • Acute on chronic lesions
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Systematic review
  • Traumatic


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