Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair without antibiotic prophylaxis does not increase the infection rate

Document Type



General Surgery (East Africa)


Purpose: Rotator cuff repair is a commonly performed shoulder procedure. In the past 20 years, there has been a shift from mini-open towards arthroscopic repair, and many units exclusively use arthroscopic techniques for rotator cuff surgery. The aim of this study was to find out whether withholding antibiotics had any effect on the infection rate in patients undergoing arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of 336 consecutive patients with an arthroscopic rotator cuff repair (RCR) and a minimum 2-year follow-up was performed. The control group received prophylactic antibiotics (controls) and the cases of interest did not receive perioperative antibiotics. A power analysis was performed according to literature regarding infection proportions. The primary outcome was an infection (superficial or deep) in the operated shoulder.

Results: There were 336 patients who underwent a RCR. Two-hundred-and-twelve in the control group and 124 in the non-antibiotic group. Average ages were 57.3 ± 12.5 and 56.8 ± 13.2 years in each group, respectively. The follow-up times ranged from 24 to 76 months. Equipment used and surgical techniques were identical, only operating times were statistically different between the groups (control 77.2 ± 41.3 min versus no antibiotic cases 52.9 ± 16.7 min) (p = 0.000009). There was no recorded infection in either group.

Conclusion: Infection following arthroscopic surgery is uncommon. Small incisions, constant lavage with saline, minimal hardware insertion and short operating times all combine to minimise the risks. Current results point towards no detriment in withholding prophylactic antibiotics in low-risk patients undergoing routine rotator cuff repair surgery. Therefore, judicious use of prophylactic antibiotics in patients undergoing this procedure is advocated to prevent potential harm to those it is administered to.

Level of evidence: Level III.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy volume