Twenty-five patients with known or suspected tears of the rotator cuff in 26 shoulders underwent MR imaging. All patients also underwent arthrography or surgery. MR visualized abnormalities consistent with a tear in 20 of the 22 tears diagnosed by arthrography or surgery. In most cases, tears were seen as regions of increased signal intensity within the cuff on long-TR pulse sequences, although two cases simply showed an almost complete absence of normal cuff. The MR appearance of the two cases with partial tears was similar to that of full-thickness tears. Of the four cases with normal arthrograms, one case had MR findings consistent with a tear. We conclude that MR has good potential for the noninvasive diagnosis of rotator cuff tears. Its ultimate role in this diagnosis must await prospective studies comparing its accuracy with that of sonography, CT, and arthrography.