E. Amory Codman, MD, during the prime of his clinical practice, in the 1910s, when he was about 50 years old.


Published 5/1/2011
William Mallon, MD

100 years ago: Codman and the rotator cuff

It was May 1911. A new huge cruise ship, the Titanic, expected to be the flagship of the White Star Line, was launched from Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland, no one knowing at the time the fate that would befall it. In Mexico, Pancho Villa attacked government troops, and his revolution would succeed when those same troops surrendered on May 10, 1911. In Indianapolis, a long-distance automobile race, called the Indy 500, was first held and was won by Ray Harroun, driving his Marmon Wasp, in 6 hours, 42 minutes. Few expected much to come of the race, and few expected it would still be held 100 years hence.

The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (now known as the New England Journal of Medicine) published a two-page article by E. A. Codman, MD, “Complete Rupture of the Supraspinatus Tendon: Operative Treatment with Report of Two Successful Cases.” It was a revolutionary article, because it was the first report in English of a surgeon’s repair of the rotator cuff. The March issue of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery closely approximates the 100th anniversary of the appearance of this landmark article and opens with it as a reprint.

Dr. Codman could be considered among the most important surgeons of the 20th century, more for his work initiating the field of outcome studies and evidence-based medicine, in which he was a legend, than for what he did in the field of shoulder surgery. But he was truly the first shoulder surgeon, writing the first textbook devoted solely to the shoulder, and authoring numerous papers on the joint. He preceded Charles Neer, MD, by about 50 years, and Dr. Codman’s work allowed Dr. Neer, and many other giants of shoulder surgery, to see farther and bring us to where we are today.

William Mallon, MD, is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. This article was published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, Vol 20, No. 3, pp. 345–346. Copyright American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons, 2011; adapted with permission.