Movement compensation is driven by the deltoid and teres minor muscles following severe rotator cuff tear


      • Muscle force contribution changes are dependent on muscle and tear severity.
      • Middle deltoid force contribution increases during task performance.
      • Teres minor force contribution increases for specific task performance.
      • Compensatory muscles are ideal targets for rehabilitation to avoid further injury.



      Rotator cuff tears are common in older adults, negatively affecting function. Previous simulation-based studies reported more posterior and superior oriented glenohumeral loading with increased cuff tear severity and task performance, although corresponding muscle compensation strategies are unclear. Our objective is to determine how shoulder muscle forces change with increased rotator cuff tear severity during functional task performance.


      Eight musculoskeletal models of increasing tear severity were developed to represent no rotator cuff tear to massive three-tendon tears. Simulations were performed using each combination of model and kinematics for five functional tasks. Individual muscle forces were averaged for each task and tear severity, then normalized by the sum of the muscle forces across the shoulder. Forces were compared across tear severity and muscle.


      For muscle force contribution, interactions between tear severity and muscle and a main effect of muscle were seen for all tasks (P < 0.0001). Middle deltoid increased force contribution by >10% in the greatest tear severity model compared to no cuff tear model for all tasks (all P < 0.0001). Teres minor contribution increased by 7.7%, 5.6%, and 11% in the greatest tear severity model compared to the no cuff tear model for forward reach, axilla wash, and upward reach 105° tasks, respectively (all P < 0.0001).


      Functional tasks elicit compensatory responses from uninjured muscles following severe cuff tears, notably in middle deltoid and teres minor, leading to posterior-superior glenohumeral loading. The muscles are potential targets for strengthening to avoid injury from sustained increased muscle force.


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