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Eur J Radiol. 1997 Nov;25(3):168-76.

Diagnosis of tears in rotator-cuff-injuries.

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Department of Radiology, University Hospital of Basle, Switzerland.


Pathology of the rotator cuff is the cause of most common problems at the shoulder joint. Acute injuries are not as frequent as chronic cuff disease, but often they aggravate inflammatory or degenerative tendon alterations, even if they are of minor severity. Traumatic rotator cuff tears predominantly affect the supraspinatus tendon or the rotator interval. The subscapularis tendon is involved in anterior dislocations of the glenohumeral joint or in direct trauma. Plain film radiography still remains the base of all further imaging studies. If only full-thickness tears must be ruled out, double-contrast arthrography and ultrasound are acceptable imaging modalities. However, the former has a drawback in being invasive and does not detect partial tears at the bursal site of the cuff or rotator cuff tendinopathy, whereas the latter heavily depends on the experience of the radiologist and is restricted to the rotator cuff. Nowadays the most comprehensive imaging method is magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. MR imaging enables the detection or exclusion of complete rotator cuff tears with a reasonable accuracy and is also suitable to diagnose further pathologies of the shoulder joint. MR arthrography is valuable in the detection of subtle anatomic details and further improves the differentiation of rotator cuff diseases. Although in comparison MR imaging is still the most expensive imaging method, its high negative predictive value for the diagnosis of complete rotator cuff tears and its reliability evaluating different shoulder joint pathologies make it the preferred imaging modality.

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