Muscle atrophy and fat accumulation occur after rotator cuff tearing. Whether these changes are reversible after a successful repair is still unknown. Imaging allows only a semi-quantitative assessment of muscle atrophy and fat deposition. As only experimental studies permit a quantification of both, a unilateral detachment and wrapping in a polyvinylidine fluoride membrane of the supraspinatus was done in 22 rabbits. After 12 weeks, the polyvinylidine fluoride membrane was removed in 10 rabbits and the tendon inserted into a bony trough. The opposite shoulder served as control. All rabbits were killed at 24 weeks. Accumulation of fat on the muscle surface as well as between the muscle fascicles and occasionally in the sarcoplasm was increased in both experimental groups when compared to controls (non-reattached 12.8%, reattached 23.5% vs controls 5.4%; all p < 0.005). The muscle atrophy was significant (non-reattached 9.2 ml, reattached 9.1 ml vs controls 10.7 ml; both p < 0.005). Neither atrophy nor fat accumulation were reversed by surgical reattachment of the supraspinatus tendon. On the contrary, the fat accumulation was higher in the reattached group (p < 0.005). The trauma of reattachment, the delay between detachment and reattachment or an insufficient duration of recovery may have contributed to both, the lack of reversibility of supraspinatus atrophy and fat accumulation. © 2002 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.