Ultrasound study of the asymptomatic shoulder in patients with a confirmed rotator cuff tear in the opposite shoulder

  • Z Oschman
  • C Janse van Rensburg
  • NGJ Maritz
  • H Borain
  • R Owen


Objective. To document the incidence of asymptomatic rotator cuff tears in patients with a confirmed symptomatic tear in the opposite shoulder, and to identify ultrasound findings that may distinguish symptomatic from asymptomatic tears. Design. When patients are referred for an ultrasound examination for the confirmation of symptomatic rotator cuff tear the opposite shoulder is often used for comparison. However, patients often have a similar tear on the asymptomatic side. Fifty patients with a confirmed symptomatic rotator cuff tear and an asymptomatic shoulder on the opposite side were chosen for inclusion. The patients were examined using a Siemens Sonoline Elegra 7.5 MHz linear multi-frequency probe. The appearance of the rotator cuff, long head of the biceps and the subacromial-subdeltoid bursa (SASD bursa) were documented. The antero-posterior (AP) dimension of the supraspinatus muscle and fat between the trapezius and supraspinatus muscles were measured, which indicated if a tear was acute or chronic. The width and length of the rotator cuff tear were measured. Setting. Division of Sports Medicine, University of Pretoria. Results. Fifty-four per cent of the asymptomatic shoulders had tears. We found that the symptomatic tears were larger, appeared more chronic and had an associated biceps tendinopathy and glenohumeral joint effusion. Conclusion. As other authors have found, the high incidence of asymptomatic tears indicates that rotator cuff tears can be regarded as a natural correlate of aging and that bilateral tears are common. Initial treatment should be conservative, but larger tears may benefit from early surgery before becoming chronic and causing glenohumeral dysfunction.

South African Journal of Sports Medicine Vol. 19 (1) 2007: pp. 23-28

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eISSN: 2078-516X
print ISSN: 1015-5163