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Rotator cuff degeneration of the healthy shoulder in patients with unilateral arm amputation is not worsened by overuse



In order to evaluate whether overuse has a significant role in rotator cuff tear (RCT) aetiology, we evaluated both shoulders of patients with old unilateral arm amputation expecting a higher rate of RC degeneration in the healthy side.


Nineteen males and six females (mean age: 57.3 ± 10.1) with an old (>20 years) unilateral arm amputation were submitted to an MRI of both shoulders. Tendon status and muscle tropism were evaluated according to Sugaya and Fuchs classifications, respectively; the acromion humeral distance was measured. Statistical analysis was performed to verify the prevalence of Sugaya and Fuchs categories in each sides.


A significant prevalence of Sugaya type II in the amputated side (p = 0.02) and of type I in the healthy side (p < 0.001) was found. Rotator cuff was healthy in 28 and 52% of amputated and non-amputated side, respectively. The mean acromio-humeral distances of the amputated and healthy side were 0.8 cm (SD: 0.1) and 0.9 cm (SD: 0.1), respectively, (p = 0.02). A significant prevalence of Fuchs type II category in the healthy side (p < 0.001) was found. Fuchs III/IV were observed in 40 and 12% of amputated and healthy side, respectively.


The present study resizes the role of overuse on the aetiology of RCT. Cuff tear prevalence in not amputated shoulders, inevitably submitted to functional overload, was not higher than that of coetaneous subjects with two functional upper limbs. Shoulder non-use is a risk factor for rotator cuff tear. As the prevalence of rotator cuff degeneration/tear is higher in the amputee side, non-use is a more relevant risk factor than overuse. In the daily clinical practice, patients with rotator cuff tear should be encouraged to shoulder movement because rotator cuff tendon status could be worsened by disuse.

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Author information




SG, VC, AC, GG and CC made substantial contributions to conception and design and have been involved in drafting the manuscript or revising it critically for important intellectual content. TV, VS, SC, LM made substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretation of data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to S. Gumina.

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No external source of funding was used.

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The study was approved by the Ethical Committee of Sapienza University (Protocol: CE-ISS 05-113).

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Gumina, S., Candela, V., Mariani, L. et al. Rotator cuff degeneration of the healthy shoulder in patients with unilateral arm amputation is not worsened by overuse. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc 26, 182–187 (2018).

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  • Rotator cuff tear etiology
  • Shoulder overuse
  • Upper limb amputation
  • Rotator cuff hypovascularity
  • Sugaya classification
  • Fuchs classification