Skeletal Radiology

, Volume 36, Issue 9, pp 841–845 | Cite as

Muscle atrophy as a consequence of rotator cuff tears: should we compare the muscles of the rotator cuff with those of the deltoid?

  • Reem AshryEmail author
  • Mark E. Schweitzer
  • Patricia Cunningham
  • Jodi Cohen
  • James Babb
  • Andrew Cantos
Scientific Article



The quantitative assessment of muscle atrophy has a degree of importance in prognosticating rotator cuff treatment. However, it has been conjectured that muscle fat increases with aging. Therefore, we thought that the quantitative assessment of the supraspinatous would be better if made in comparison with a standard of reference such as the deltoid. Consequently, we performed a two-part study, first evaluating supraspinatous changes compared with the deltoid in “normals” with aging, and second, determining if in patients with cuff tears the supraspinatous fat exceeds that of the deltoid.

Materials and methods

In part 1, we studied 50 patients stratified by decade. In the first sitting, two blinded independent observers quantitatively graded the deltoid (with the supraspinatous obscured) and in the second sitting the same two observers quantitatively graded the supraspinatous (with the deltoid obscured). In part 2 of the study, we evaluated patients with moderate rotator cuff tears (>2 cm) and performed the same blinded, two-sitting, quantitative assessment (with the comparison muscle obscured).


We found that muscle atrophy increases with age in patients without tears (0.011/0.028 U/year), although to a greater degree in the deltoid (p = 0.032). Also, in similarly aged patients, quantitative scores of the deltoid closely matched those of the supraspinatous (p = 0.071). Notably, however, in patients with large tears, the supraspinatous showed significant changes disproportionate to those of the deltoid, regardless of patient age (p = 0.044).


In the presence of a normal rotator cuff, fatty infiltration increases with age. Age-related changes occur more frequently in the deltoid, verifying this muscle’s potential as a standard of reference. With cuff tears, supraspinatous atrophy was disproportionate to that of the deltoid. Therefore, systematic assessment of supraspinatous muscle atrophy may be more reliable using the deltoid as a control for comparison than assessing it in isolation.


MRI shoulder Muscle atrophy Rotator cuff tear 


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Copyright information

© ISS 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reem Ashry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark E. Schweitzer
    • 1
  • Patricia Cunningham
    • 1
  • Jodi Cohen
    • 1
  • James Babb
    • 1
  • Andrew Cantos
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of RadiologyHospital for Joint Diseases, NYU Medical CenterNew YorkUSA

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