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J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2008 Jul;90(7):889-92. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.90B7.20481.

The detection of full thickness rotator cuff tears using ultrasound.

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Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Centre, Exeter, England.


We have examined the accuracy of 143 consecutive ultrasound scans of patients who subsequently underwent shoulder arthroscopy for rotator-cuff disease. All the scans and subsequent surgery were performed by an orthopaedic surgeon using a portable ultrasound scanner in a one-stop clinic. There were 78 full thickness tears which we confirmed by surgery or MRI. Three moderate-size tears were assessed as partial-thickness at ultrasound scan (false negative) giving a sensitivity of 96.2%. One partially torn and two intact cuffs were over-diagnosed as small full-thickness tears by ultrasound scan (false positive) giving a specificity of 95.4%. This gave a positive predictive value of 96.2% and a negative predictive value of 95.4%. Estimation of tear size was more accurate for large and massive tears at 96.5% than for moderate (88.8%) and small tears (91.6%). These results are equivalent to those obtained by several studies undertaken by experienced radiologists. We conclude that ultrasound imaging of the shoulder performed by a sufficiently-trained orthopaedic surgeon is a reliable time-saving practice to identify rotator-cuff integrity.

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