Association of sonographically detected subacromial/subdeltoid bursal effusion and intraarticular fluid with rotator cuff tear

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1995 Sep;165(3):605-8. doi: 10.2214/ajr.165.3.7645478.


Objective: Although an association between sonographically detected joint fluid and rotator cuff disease has been reported, the significance of sonographically detected subacromial/subdeltoid bursal effusion has not been studied. We examined a group of patients who had shoulder sonography and surgery to determine the association between bursal and joint effusion and surgically proved tears of the rotator cuff.

Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed the preoperative shoulder sonography reports of 163 patients for the presence of fluid within the subacromial/subdeltoid bursa or glenohumeral joint. Surgical reports were obtained to determine the status of the rotator cuff. The sonographic reports of 232 asymptomatic shoulders were also reviewed to determine the prevalence of fluid within the subacromial/subdeltoid bursa or the glenohumeral joint.

Results: Sixty-seven (41%) of the 163 patients had a joint effusion, bursal fluid, or both. Joint effusion alone was seen in 35 patients. Fourteen of these had a normal rotator cuff at surgery, and 21 had a rotator cuff tear (sensitivity, 22%; specificity, 79%; positive predictive value, 60%). Bursal fluid alone was seen in 10 patients, seven of whom had a rotator cuff tear (sensitivity, 7%; specificity, 96%; positive predictive value, 70%). In 22 patients, fluid was seen in both the bursa and the joint; 21 had surgically proved rotator cuff tears (sensitivity, 22%; specificity, 99%; positive predictive value, 95%). Of the 232 asymptomatic shoulders, 16 (6.9%) had isolated joint effusions, eight (3.4%) had isolated bursal effusions, and four (1.7%) had both joint and bursal effusions.

Conclusion: The sonographic finding of intraarticular fluid alone (without bursal fluid) has both a low sensitivity and a low specificity for the diagnosis of rotator cuff tears. However, the finding of fluid in the subacromial/subdeltoid bursa, especially when combined with a joint effusion, is highly specific and has a high positive predictive value for associated rotator cuff tears. Sonographically detected fluid in both the joint and the bursa is an uncommon finding in asymptomatic shoulders. The sonographic observation of fluid in the subacromial bursa, either isolated or combined with a joint effusion, should prompt a careful evaluation of the supraspinatus tendon for tear.

MeSH terms

  • Acromion
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Exudates and Transudates
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Shoulder Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Synovial Fluid / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tendon Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography