Diagnostic accuracy of clinical examination features for identifying large rotator cuff tears in primary health care

Rotator cuff tears are frequently reported and disabling. The early diagnosis of medium and large size rotator cuff tears can improve the prognosis of the patient. The authors’ objective in this study was to identify clinical features with the strongest ability to accurately predict the presence of a medium, large or multitendon (MLM) rotator cuff tear in a primary care cohort. Participants were consecutively recruited from primary health care practices (n = 203). All participants underwent a standardized history and physical examination, followed by a standardized X-ray series and diagnostic ultrasound scan. Clinical features associated with the presence of a MLM rotator cuff tear were identified (P<0·200), a logistic multiple regression model was derived for identifying a MLM rotator cuff tear and thereafter diagnostic accuracy was calculated.

A MLM rotator cuff tear was identified in 24 participants (11·8%). Constant pain and a painful arc in abduction were the strongest predictors of a MLM tear (adjusted odds ratio 3·04 and 13·97 respectively). Combinations of ten history and physical examination variables demonstrated highest levels of sensitivity when five or fewer were positive [100%, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0·86‐1·00; negative likelihood ratio: 0·00, 95% CI: 0·00‐0·28], and highest specificity when eight or more were positive (0·91, 95% CI: 0·86‐0·95; positive likelihood ratio 4·66, 95% CI: 2·34‐8·74).


The authors’ were able accurately detect the presence of a MLM rotator cuff tear with combinations of patient history and physical examination findings. These findings may assist the primary care clinician in more efficient and accurate diagnosis of rotator cuff tears that may require further investigation or orthopedic consultation.