MRI-based 3-dimensional volumetric assessment of fatty infiltration and muscle atrophy in rotator cuff tears

J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2022 Jun;31(6):1272-1281. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2021.12.037. Epub 2022 Jan 31.


Background: The Goutallier and Warner Classification systems are useful in determining rotator cuff reparability. Data are limited on how accurately the scapular-Y view used in both systems reflects the 3-dimensional (3-D) changes in fatty infiltration (FI) and muscle atrophy (MA). Tendon retraction in the setting of a cuff tear may also influence the perception of these changes. This study's objectives were to (1) measure the 3-D volume of the supraspinatus muscle in intact rotator cuffs, and with varying magnitudes of retraction; (2) measure the 3-D volume of FI in the supraspinatus muscle in these conditions; and (3) determine the influence of tendon retraction on measured FI and MA using the Goutallier and Warner Classification Systems.

Methods: Between August 2015 and February 2016, all shoulder magnetic resonance images (MRIs) at the Portland VA Medical Center were standardized to include the medial scapular border. MRIs and charts were reviewed for inclusion/exclusion criteria. Included MRIs were categorized into 4 groups based on rotator cuff retraction. Supraspinatus muscle and fossa were traced to create 3-D volumes. FI and MA were measured within the supraspinatus. The supraspinatus muscle was graded among 6 physicians using the Goutallier and Warner classification systems. These grades were compared to 3-D measured FI and MA. The influence of tendon retraction on the measured grades were also evaluated.

Results: One hundred nine patients met inclusion/exclusion criteria. Ten MRIs for each group (N = 40) were included for image analysis. Supraspinatus volume tracings were highly reproducible and consistent between tracers. Supraspinatus muscle volumes decreased while global FI and MA increased with greater degrees of tendon retraction. In muscles with less than 10% global fat, fat concentrated in the lateral third of the muscle. In muscle with more than 10% global fat content, it distributed more diffusely throughout the muscle from medial to lateral. In comparing the scapular-Y to a medial cut, there was no consistent trend in FI whereas MA was more accurate at the medial cut.

Conclusion: Parasagittal imaging location did not significantly influence the Goutallier score; however, assessment of MA using the Warner score leads readers to perceive less MA medially regardless of the magnitude of tendon retraction. The pattern of FI within the supraspinatus muscle changes from a laterally based location around the muscle-tendon junction to a more diffuse, global infiltration pattern when the whole muscle fat content exceeds 10%.

Keywords: 3-dimensional; Goutallier and Warner; MRI; fatty infiltration; muscle atrophy.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Muscular Atrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Rotator Cuff / diagnostic imaging
  • Rotator Cuff / pathology
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries* / pathology
  • Shoulder / pathology