Prevalence and characteristics of asymptomatic tears of the rotator cuff: an ultrasonographic and clinical study

J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2009 Feb;91(2):196-200. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.91B2.21069.


We undertook clinical and ultrasonographic examination of the shoulders of 420 asymptomatic volunteers aged between 50 and 79 years. MRI was performed in selected cases. Full-thickness tears of the rotator cuff were detected in 32 subjects (7.6%). The prevalence increased with age as follows: 50 to 59 years, 2.1%; 60 to 69 years, 5.7%; and 70 to 79 years, 15%. The mean size of the tear was less than 3 cm and tear localisation was limited to the supraspinatus tendon in most cases (78%). The strength of flexion was reduced significantly in the group with tears (p = 0.01). Asymptomatic tears of the rotator cuff should be regarded as part of the normal ageing process in the elderly but may be less common than hitherto believed.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lacerations / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lacerations / etiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Rotator Cuff / diagnostic imaging
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries*
  • Shoulder Injuries*
  • Shoulder Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography