Dead men and radiologists don't lie: a review of cadaveric and radiological studies of rotator cuff tear prevalence

Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2006 Mar;88(2):116-21. doi: 10.1308/003588406X94968.


Introduction: Rotator cuff tears are a common pathology, with a varied prevalence reported.

Patients and methods: A literature review was undertaken to determine the cadaveric and radiological (ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) prevalence of rotator cuff tear. The radiological studies were subdivided into symptomatic and asymptomatic subjects.

Results: Cadaveric rotator cuff tears were found in 4629 shoulders of which only 2553 met the inclusion criteria. The prevalence of full-thickness tears was 11.75% and partial thickness 18.49% (total tears 30.24%). The total tear rate in ultrasound asymptomatic was 38.9% and ultrasound symptomatic 41.4%. The total rate in MRI asymptomatic was 26.2% whilst MRI symptomatic was 49.4%.

Discussion: The unselected cadaveric population should contain both symptomatic and asymptomatic subjects. A prevalence of tears between the symptomatic and asymptomatic radiological groups would be expected. However, apart from the MRI asymptomatic group, the radiological prevalence of rotator cuff tears exceeds the cadaveric.

Conclusions: Rotator cuff tears are frequently asymptomatic. Tears demonstrated during radiological investigation of the shoulder may be asymptomatic. It is important to correlate radiological and clinical findings in the shoulder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cadaver
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Radiography
  • Rotator Cuff / diagnostic imaging
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries*
  • Tendon Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tendon Injuries / epidemiology
  • Ultrasonography