BACKGROUND: Few studies have investigated magnetic resonance (MR) characteristics of traumatic posterosuperior rotator cuff tears involving the supraspinatus and infraspinatus. We hypothesized that traumatic rotator cuff tears may have MR characteristics distinguishable from those of non-traumatic tears. METHODS: Preoperative MR arthrography and intraoperative tear size measurements were compared in 302 patients who underwent MR arthrography and subsequent arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs for traumatic (group T, 61 patients) or non-traumatic (group NT, 241 patients) tears. The inclusion criteria for both groups were posterosuperior full-thickness rotator cuff tear and age between 40 and 60 years. For group T, traumas were limited to accidental falls or slips, or sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents; injuries were associated with acute onset of pain followed by functional shoulder impairment; and time between injury and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was 6 weeks or less. RESULTS: In group T, 72.1% of shoulders (44 patients) had tendon tears with blunt edges while 27.9% of shoulders (17 patients) had tears with tapering edges. In contrast, 21.2% of patients in group NT (51 patients) had blunt-edge tears, while 78.8% (190 patients) of tears had tapering edges. These results were statistically significant (p<0.001) and estimated odds ratio was 9.6. The size of tear did not vary significantly between groups. CONCLUSIONS: We found no exclusive MR characteristic to define traumatic tears. However, oblique coronal MRI of traumatic tears showed a significant tendency for abrupt and rough torn tendon edges and relatively consistent tendon thicknesses (without lateral tapering) compared to non-traumatic cuff tears.