Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


I had an MRI, an X-ray, and an ultrasound of my shoulder. The doctor found two torn rotator cuff tendons. One was a partial-thickness tear and the other was full-thickness. what does this means exactly?


Damage to a tendon of the rotator cuff is usually called a rotator cuff tear. Minor fraying of the tendon but no other change in the tendon is counted as part of the "normal" aging process. But frayed pieces with a loss of tendon fibers is a partial-thickness tear.

Full-thickness tear means the tendon is severed all the way through. There is usually a gap seen on MRI or CT scan to show this. Sometimes a tendon will look normal on imaging studies. There are also times when a tear looks partial but is really full. The only way to know for sure is by doing arthroscopic or open surgery. At that time the diagnosis is confirmed with 100 percent accuracy.

Joseph P. Iannotti, MD, PhD et al. Accuracy of Office-Based Ultrasonography of the Shoulder for the Diagnosis of Rotator Cuff Tears. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. June 2005. Vol. 87-A. No. 6. Pp. 1305-1311.

*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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