Latissimus dorsi transfer (LDT) and lower trapezius transfer (LTT) are effective treatment options for posterosuperior irreparable rotator cuff tears (IRCTs) in relatively young patients and elderly high-demand patients without arthritic changes. However, the optimal treatment option for patients with posterosuperior IRCT remains a subject of ongoing debate. This study aimed to compare clinical and radiologic short-term outcomes between arthroscopic-assisted LDT (aLDT) and arthroscopic-assisted LTT (aLTT) in patients with posterosuperior IRCT.

This retrospective crossover study included patients who underwent aLDT or aLTT for posterosuperior IRCT and who had a minimum clinical follow-up time of 2 years after undergoing surgical procedures between January 2012 and June 2019. A total of 90 patients with posterosuperior IRCT were divided into 2 groups according to the surgical procedure: group D underwent aLDT (n = 48) and group T underwent aLTT (n = 42). Clinical outcomes comprised the visual analog scale score for pain, active shoulder range of motion (ROM), American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons Standardized Shoulder Assessment Form (ASES) score, and activities of daily living that require active external rotation (ADLER) score. Radiologic outcomes included acromiohumeral distance (AHD). The progression of arthritis was evaluated using Hamada grade. Graft integrity was assessed using postoperative magnetic resonance imaging.

Significant improvements in clinical outcomes were observed in both groups. Active shoulder external rotation (P <  .001), postoperative ASES score (P <  .001), and ADLER score (P <  .001) were significantly higher in group T than in group D. AHD at 2-year follow-up was significantly higher in group T than in group D (P <  .001). The rate of progression of arthritis was significantly higher in group D (31.3%) than in group T (7.1%) (P = .031).

Although both LDT and LTT improved the overall clinical outcomes of patients with posterosuperior IRCT, LTT was superior to LDT in terms of shoulder ROM, functional improvement, and progression of arthritis. Our findings indicate that LTT may be the preferred treatment option for posterosuperior IRCT in relatively active and young patients.

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