Clinical Review

Reverse Total Shoulder Arthroplasty: Indications and Techniques Across the World

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RTSA is a common procedure performed in many different areas of the world for a variety of indications. The study hypotheses were partially confirmed, as there were no significant differences seen in the characteristics of the studies published and patients analyzed; although, the majority of studies from North America reported rotator cuff tear arthropathy as the primary indication for RTSA, whereas studies from Europe were split between rotator cuff tear arthropathy and pseudoparalysis as the primary indication. Hence, based on the current literature the study proved that we are treating the same patients. Despite this finding, we may be treating them for different reasons with an RTSA.

RTSA has become a standard procedure in the United States, with >20,000 RTSAs performed in 2011.10 This number will continue to increase as it has over the past 20 years given the aging population in the United States, as well as the expanding indications for RTSA.11 Indications of RTSA have become broad, although the main indication remains as rotator cuff tear arthropathy (>60% of all patients included in this study), and pseudoparalysis (>15% of all patients included in this study). Results for RTSA for rotator cuff tear arthropathy and pseudoparalysis have been encouraging.16,17 Frankle and colleagues16 evaluated 60 patients who underwent RTSA for rotator cuff tear arthropathy at a minimum of 2 years follow-up (average, 33 months). The authors found significant improvements in all measured clinical outcome variables (P < .0001) (ASES, mean function score, mean pain score, and VAS) as well as ROM, specifically forward flexion increased from 55° to 105.1°, and abduction increased from 41.4° to 101.8°. Similarly, Werner and colleagues17 evaluated 58 consecutive patients who underwent RTSA for pseudoparalysis secondary to irreparable rotator cuff dysfunction at a mean follow-up of 38 months. Overall, significant improvements (P < .0001) were seen in the SSV score, relative Constant score, and Constant score for pain, active anterior elevation (42° to 100° following RTSA), and active abduction (43° to 90° following RTSA).

It is essential to understand the similarities and differences between patients undergoing RTSA in different parts of the world so the literature from various countries can be compared between regions, and conclusions extrapolated to the correct patients. For example, an interesting finding in this study is that the majority of patients in North America have their prosthesis cemented whereas the majority of patients in Australia have their prosthesis press-fit. While the patients each continent is treating are not significantly different (mostly older women), the difference in surgical technique could have implications in long- or short-term functional outcomes. Prior studies have shown no difference in axial micromotion between cemented and press-fit humeral components, but the clinical implications surrounding this are not well defined.18 Small series comparing cementless to cemented humeral prosthesis in RTSA have found no significant differences in clinical outcomes or postoperative ROM, but larger series are necessary to validate these outcomes.19 However, studies have shown lower rates of postoperative infections in patients who receive antibiotic-loaded cement compared with those who receive plain bone cement following RTSA.20

Similarly, as the vast majority of patients in North America had an RTSA for rotator cuff arthropathy (75.8%) whereas those from Europe had RTSA almost equally for rotator cuff arthropathy (33.5%) and pseudoparalysis (29.7%), one must ensure similar patient populations before attempting to extrapolate results of a study from a different country to patients in other areas. Fortunately, the clinical results following RTSA for either indication have been good.6,21,22

One final point to consider is the cost effectiveness of the implant. Recent evidence has shown that RTSA is associated with a higher risk for in-hospital death, multiple perioperative complications, prolonged hospital stay, and increased hospital cost when compared with TSA.23 This data may be biased as the patient selection for RTSA varies from that of TSA, but it is a point that must be considered. Other studies have shown that an RTSA is a cost-effective treatment option for treating patients with rotator cuff tear arthropathy, and is a more cost-effective option in treating rotator cuff tear arthropathy than hemiarthroplasty.24,25 Similarly, RTSA offers a more cost-effective treatment option with better outcomes for patients with acute proximal humerus fractures when compared with open reduction internal fixation and hemiarthroplasty.26 However, TSA is a more cost-effective treatment option than RTSA for patients with glenohumeral osteoarthritis.27 With changing reimbursement in healthcare, surgeons must scrutinize not only anticipated outcomes with specific implants but the cost effectiveness of these implants as well. Further cost analysis studies are necessary to determine the ideal candidate for an RTSA.


Despite its extensive review of the literature, this study had several limitations. While 2 independent authors searched for studies, it is possible that some studies were missed during the search process, introducing possible selection bias. No abstracts or unpublished works were included which could have introduced publication bias. Several studies did not report all variables the authors examined, and this could have skewed some of the results since the reporting of additional variables could have altered the data to show significant differences in some measured variables. As outcome measures for various pathologies were not compared, conclusions cannot be drawn on the best treatment option for various indications. As case reports were included, this could have lowered both the MCMS as well as the average in studies reporting outcomes. Furthermore, given the overall poor quality of the underlying data available for this study, the validity/generalizability of the results could be limited as the level of evidence of this systematic review is only as high as the studies it includes. There are subtle differences between rotator cuff arthropathy and pseudoparalysis, and some studies may have classified patients differently than others, causing differences in indications. Finally, as the primary goal of this study was to report on demographics, no evaluation of concomitant pathology at the time of surgery or rehabilitation protocols was performed.


The quantity, but not the quality of RTSA studies is increasing. Indications for RTSA varied by continent although most patients underwent RTSA for rotator cuff arthropathy. The majority of patients undergoing RTSA are female over the age of 60 years for a diagnosis of rotator cuff arthropathy with pseudoparalysis.

This paper will be judged for the Resident Writer’s Award.

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