MR imaging of the shoulder: appearance of the supraspinatus tendon in asymptomatic volunteers

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1992 Jun;158(6):1281-7. doi: 10.2214/ajr.158.6.1590124.


MR imaging has been shown to be accurate in the diagnosis of rotator cuff disruption and tear. Uncertainty remains about the significance of increased signal intensity in the critical zone of the supraspinatus tendon without visible disruption of tendon fibers and about the significance of other secondary findings commonly encountered with rotator cuff abnormalities, such as musculotendinous retraction or obliteration and fluid in the subacromial space. We evaluated proton density-weighted and T2-weighted coronal images (obtained on a 1.5-T superconductive MR imager) of 55 shoulders in 32 asymptomatic volunteers for signal intensity in the supraspinatus tendon, location of the musculotendinous junction, fluid in the subacromial-subdeltoid space, and appearance of the fat plane. In 89% of shoulders, the supraspinatus tendon showed focal, linear, or diffuse increased signal intensity with or without loss of the low-signal-intensity tendon margin on proton density-weighted images. None of these findings were confirmed on T2-weighted images. The musculotendinous junction was always located within an area 15 degrees medial to 30 degrees lateral to the highest point (12 o'clock) on the humeral head convexity. A peribursal fat plane was poorly defined or absent in 49%, and fluid in the subacromial-subdeltoid space was found in 20%. Increased signal intensity in the supraspinatus tendon on proton density-weighted images without a corresponding increase on T2-weighted images, the presence of small amounts of fluid in the subacromial space, and the lack of preservation of the subdeltoid fat plane are common findings in asymptomatic shoulders and by themselves are poor predictors of rotator cuff disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Shoulder Joint / anatomy & histology*
  • Tendons / anatomy & histology*