Traumatic rupture of the tendon of the subscapularis muscle was documented as an isolated lesion in the shoulders of 16 men. The injury was caused either by forceful hyperextension or external rotation of the adducted arm. The patients complained of anterior shoulder pain and weakness of the arm when it was used above and below the shoulder level. They did not experience shoulder instability. The injured shoulders exhibited increased external rotation and decreased strength of internal rotation. A simple clinical manoeuvre called the 'lift-off test', reliably diagnosed or excluded clinically relevant rupture of the subscapularis tendon. Confirmation of the clinical diagnosis was best achieved by ultrasonography or MRI, but arthrography or CT arthrography were also useful. Surgical exploration confirmed the diagnosis in every case. Repair of the ruptured tendon was technically demanding and required good exposure to identify and protect the axillary nerve.