Between June 1986 and April 1988, 86 sonographic examinations of the shoulder were performed on patients suspected of having rotator cuff tears. Major sonographic diagnostic criteria included (a) a well-defined discontinuity usually visible as a hypoechoic focus within the cuff, (b) nonvisualization of the cuff and (c) an echogenic focus within the cuff. Seventy-five patients underwent both sonography and arthrography. Compared with arthrography alone, ultrasound examinations enabled detection of 92% of rotator cuff tears (24 of 26 tears), with a specificity of 84% and a negative predictive value of 95%. Correlation was obtained in 30 of these patients who underwent surgery for rotator cuff tear or other soft-tissue abnormality. In this group, the sensitivity of sonography for detection of a tear was 93%, with a specificity of 73%, while for arthrography sensitivity was 87% and specificity was 100%. These data indicate that sonography is a useful, noninvasive screening procedure for patients suspected of having rotator cuff injury.