A persistent atrophy of muscle fibers and an accumulation of fat, collectively referred to as fatty degeneration, commonly occur in patients with chronic rotator cuff tears. The etiology of fatty degeneration and function of the residual rotator cuff musculature have not been well characterized in humans. We hypothesized that muscles from patients with chronic rotator cuff tears have reduced muscle fiber force production, disordered myofibrils, and an accumulation of fat vacuoles.
The contractility of muscle fibers from biopsy specimens of supraspinatus muscles of 13 patients with chronic full-thickness posterosuperior rotator cuff tears was measured and compared with data from healthy vastus lateralis muscle fibers. Correlations between muscle fiber contractility, American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) scores, and tear size were analyzed. Histology and electron microscopy were also performed.
Torn supraspinatus muscles had a 30% reduction in maximum isometric force production and a 29% reduction in normalized force compared with controls. Normalized supraspinatus fiber force positively correlated with ASES score and negatively correlated with tear size. Disordered sarcomeres were noted, along with an accumulation of lipid-laden macrophages in the extracellular matrix surrounding supraspinatus muscle fibers.
Patients with chronic supraspinatus tears have significant reductions in muscle fiber force production. Force production also correlates with ASES scores and tear size. The structural and functional muscle dysfunction of the residual muscle fibers is independent of the additional area taken up by fibrotic tissue. This work may help establish future therapies to restore muscle function after the repair of chronically torn rotator cuff muscles.