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A Prospective, Quantitative Evaluation of Fatty Infiltration Before and After Rotator Cuff Repair.



Current evaluation of muscle fatty infiltration has been limited by subjective classifications. Quantitative fat evaluation through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may allow for an improved longitudinal evaluation of the effect of surgical repair on the progression of fatty infiltration.


We hypothesized that (1) patients with isolated full-thickness supraspinatus tendon tears would have less progression in fatty infiltration compared with patients with full-thickness tears of multiple tendons and (2) patients with eventual failed repair would have higher baseline levels of fatty infiltration.

Study design

Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.


Thirty-five patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears were followed longitudinally. All patients received a shoulder MRI, including the iterative decomposition of echoes of asymmetric length (IDEAL) sequence for fat measurement, prior to surgical treatment and at 6 months after surgical repair. Fat fractions were recorded for all 4 rotator cuff muscles from measurements on 4 sagittal slices centered at the scapular-Y. Demographics and tear characteristics were recorded. Baseline and follow-up fat fractions were compared for patients with isolated supraspinatus tears versus multitendon tears and for patients with intact repairs versus failed repairs. Statistical significance was set at P < .05.


The mean fat fractions were significantly higher at follow-up than at baseline for the supraspinatus (9.8% ± 7.0% vs 8.3% ± 5.7%; P = .025) and infraspinatus (7.4% ± 6.1% vs 5.7% ± 4.4%; P = .027) muscles. Patients with multitendon tears showed no significant change for any rotator cuff muscle after repair. Patients with isolated supraspinatus tears showed a significant progression in the supraspinatus fat fraction from baseline to follow-up (from 6.8% ± 4.9% to 8.6% ± 6.8%; P = .0083). Baseline supraspinatus fat fractions were significantly higher in patients with eventual failed repairs compared with those with intact repairs (11.7% ± 6.8% vs 7.1% ± 4.8%; P = .037).


Contrary to our initial hypothesis, patients with isolated supraspinatus tears showed a significant progression of fatty infiltration. Patients with eventual repair failure had higher baseline fat fractions in the supraspinatus.

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