Let’s first understand what PASTA stands for. PASTA – partial articular supraspinatus tendon avulsion. If we take a look at each part individually, it gives us a better picture as to what the lesion is.

Partial: means the tear has not gone all the way through the tendon.

Articular: There are two surfaces to the tendon. One is bursal and the other is articular. The articular surface is the inner-side of the tendon.

Supraspinatus Tendon: This is one of the tendons which make up the rotator cuff, the group of muscles and tendons which help to move and stabilize the arm at the shoulder.


Avulsion: An avulsion injury refers usually to a traumatic injury which has had some sort of pulling force applied.

Simply put, it is partial tear in one of the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder (usually supraspinatus).

Cause of PASTA lesions

PASTA lesions are very common type of rotator cuff pathology. It is generally seen in athletes under the age of 45 involved in contact or throw sports. Main cause of PASTA lesion is twisting or pulling of the shoulder. It can also be caused by any traumatic and forceful fall or ageing. PASTA lesions can be present with pain when lifting outwards, overhead and throwing. Fatigue of the shoulder on account of overhead activities is common. PASTA lesions can also be found in younger people and people who smoke.

Symptoms of PASTA lesions

Excruciating pain while lifting the arm overhead, outward or in a throwing gesture and weakness in the shoulder after performing activities that involve overhead lifting repeatedly are the common signs that signify PASTA lesion.

Diagnosis of PASTA lesions

Clinical diagnosis of PASTA lesions can be challenging as not all PASTA lesions show symptoms.  Though the natural history of PASTA lesions remain vague, tendon tear is generally associated with pain and disability.  Pain is generally present in the arc of motion between 60° and 120°.  Pain is generally triggered by resisted abduction with the shoulder positioned at 90° of abduction.  It has been clinically proven that more that 50% of the PASTA lesions tend to enlarge. When doctor examines the patient suspected to have PASTA lesion, pain may be felt during the Empty Can (Jobe) Test or the LaFosse test.  The tear can be seen on ultrasound scan or plain MRI scan.  However, MRI scan or MR Arthrogram (where dye is injected into the joint before the scan) taken in a special position called the ABER (ABduction and External Rotation) position is more accurate.  The ABER MRI scan is taken with the arm above the patient’s head in the scanner.

PASTA lesion can be precisely diagnosed at key-hole surgery (arthroscopy).


Treatment of the PASTA lesions varies in accordance with the stage and pathology.  Generally it begins with conservative treatment.  However, when more than one half of the thickness of the supraspinatus tendon is torn (Ellman or Snyder Grade 3) operative procedure in symptomatic patients is indicated. The final choice of treatment modality for the treatment of PASTA lesions is based on factors such as clinical evaluation, imaging findings, and classification of the tear.

Treatment options are either conservative or surgical.

Conservative treatment

Conservative treatment generally begins with physical therapy.  Rest or activity modification with the avoidance of movements that cause pain is the first line of treatment.  Pain and inflammation can be contained with the help of oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  In some cases corticosteroids may also be prescribed for pain relief.  However, it is important to note that both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid drugs may have harmful effects on long-term tendon healing.

When conservative treatments fail bring the desired result, surgery is generally required.

Surgical treatment

Surgery is usually suggested if the patient’s pain is not coming down by three to six months of nonoperative treatment, including activity modification, avoidance of overhead or pain-provoking actions, NSAID use, physical therapy, strengthening, and subacromial or glenohumeral steroid injections.

There are various surgical options including:

1) Debridement in isolation

2) Debridement with an acromioplasty

3) Rotator cuff repair

Before zeroing in on a surgical procedure, factors such as the size of the tear, the patient’s age and the level of activity of the person are taken into account.

Every case is different, so is the recovery after surgery.  Success of recovery depends on several factors, including repair techniques, healing process related to timing, rehabilitation programs, and patient compliance with home exercises.

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Q and As – Pasta Lesions

1. What is a PASTA lesion?

PASTA lesion is an acronym for Partial Articular Supraspinatus Tendon Avulsion. It is a very common rotator cuff injury. It mainly affects overhead athletes, younger people, and people who smoke. PASTA lesions cause pain and weakness in the affected shoulder.

2. What are the risk factors associated with a PASTA lesion?

There are several risk factors that predispose certain individuals to PASTA lesions. There is a proven relationship between age and PASTA lesions. They are known to increase in frequency with age and the most common cause is age-related degeneration and, less frequently, sports injuries or trauma.

Smokers, diabetics, and individuals with muscle atrophy and/or fatty infiltration are also at increased risk of developing PASTA lesions. Recurrent lifting and overhead motions are at risk as well. This includes jobs that involve repetitive overhead work, such as carpenters, painters, and servers. Sports players engaged in sports that involve overhead motions, such as swimming, volleyball, baseball, tennis, rugby, shot put, and javelin throwers are at considerable risk.

3. What are the treatment options available for PASTA lesions?

For most cases, the initial treatment for PASTA lesion is nonsurgical and involves several modalities like:

  • Rest. If the tear is due to overuse, resting the shoulder may help.
  • Physiotherapy to strengthen and train the muscles.
  • Strengthening and stretching exercises, as part of a physical therapy program, are recommended.
  • Corticosteroid injections can help reduce pain but cannot be repeated frequently because they can also weaken the tendon.

If the symptoms continue despite the conservative treatment, then surgical reattachment of the damaged portion may be appropriate. This is performed using arthroscopic techniques like arthroscopic debridement of the tear with or without acromioplasty, tear completion and repair, and transtendinous in situ repair.

4. What are the diagnostic tests performed for PASTA lesions?

There are several physical and imaging tests done to conclusively arrive at a diagnosis of PASTA lesion. No single physical examination test distinguishes reliably between inflamed bursae, partial-thickness, and full-thickness tears.

  • Codman’s test is performed as one of the physical tests for the diagnosis of a PASTA lesion. The arm is raised to the side to 90° by the examiner. The injured individual then attempts to look to lower the arm back to neutral, palm down. If the arm drops suddenly or pain is experienced, the test is considered positive.
  • Radiographs from various angles and views are used.
  • Ultrasound imaging is an appropriate technique for the assessment of PASTA lesions.
  • MRI techniques have improved the ability to detect PASTA lesions.

5. What are the signs and symptoms associated with PASTA lesions?

The signs and symptoms seen in PASTA lesions are often similar to other rotator cuff conditions and it may be difficult to distinguish them. The symptoms seen are:

  • Recurrent, constant pain. Particularly with overhead activities.
  • Pain at night which prevents one from being able to sleep on the affected side.
  • Muscle weakness, especially when attempting to lift the arm above shoulder height.
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