Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


My surgeon showed me an MRI of my shoulder where the rotator cuff is torn. I couldn't really tell what I was looking at. What are they seeing?


The MRI gives a density signal for soft tissues that helps identify damage or injuries. The surgeon is able to locate individual tendons and look for tears in the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. They form an envelope of support and provide stability for the free-moving shoulder.

A normal, healthy tendon produces no signal on an MRI. When a tendon is partially torn, the scan shows a high signal intensity at the site of the lesion. If the tendon is completely torn, the image shows a bright fluid through the entire thickness of the tendon.

In general, MRI has a high sensitivity for finding rotator cuff tears. Other shoulder problems may not be as clear or as easy to see on an MRI. Robert A. Pedowitz, MD, PhD et al. Effective Use of MRI: Scanning the Shoulder. In The Journal of Musculoskeletal Medicine. December 2006. Vol. 23. No. 12. Pp. 845-848.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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