A common problem for people over 40 years of age is a rotator cuff tear.
A rotator cuff tear may result suddenly from a single traumatic event or, most frequently, develop gradually because of repetitive activities. Gradual rotator cuff tears tend to occur in the dominant arm and are a common cause of pain and disability in adults.
A complete tear, compared to a partial tear, usually means that the thickest part of the tendon has ripped, or separated from the bone, and surgery is used to stitch the two sides back together again.
Stem Cell therapy, an area of research called Orthobiologics, has amazing capabilities to repair partial tears or assist in the healing and strengthening of the tendon in post-surgical full tears.
What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?
The rotator cuff is comprised of a series of four muscles and tendons that surround the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) and hold it in the shoulder joint. In time the tendon tissue starts to wear thin and changes its internal structure.
Eventually the tissue will start to “lift off” from its attachement to the bone and a partial rotator cuff tear occurs. Given more time, all the tendon tissue might separate, or be torn from the bone, producing a full thickness rotator cuff tear.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?
- Recurrent, constant pain, particularly with overhead activities.
- Limited motion.
- Muscle weakness, especially when attempting to lift the arm.
- Pain at night that prevents you from sleeping on the affected side.
- Catching and grating or cracking sounds when the arm is moved.
Risks of Rotator Cuff Surgery
The risks of rotator cuff surgery include but are not limited to the following:
- injury to nerves and blood vessels
- irreparability of the rotator cuff tendon
- stiffness of the joint
- re-tear of the repaired rotator cuff
- the need for additional surgeries
Partial Tear Treatment
Temporary pain relief may be experienced for a partial tear using corticosteroid injections. These injections may provide temporary relief, but cannot be repeated frequently because they can weaken the tendon. Weakening the tendon only leads to the increased susceptibility of a full tear.
A partial tear, however, can benefit from orthobiologic treatment, or Stem Cell therapy. When you inject your own healing stem cells into the tendon, you can potentially increase the fixation and shorten the healing time, but as importantly, you can potentially also increase the strength of the tendon.
Stem Cell therapy has the potential to fully heal a partial tear. At this time, a full tear still requires surgery.
Exciting News About Using Stem Cells For Post-Surgical Rotator Cuff Full Tears
It is important to note than more than 25% of rotator cuff repairs re-tear after surgery, and recovery is a lengthy and painful process.
However the positive news is that Stem Cell therapy has been shown to improve recovery and decrease the likelihood of future tears.
There is overwhelming evidence of personal testimonials regarding its effectiveness. Though large-scale research studies are still scarce, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recently presented a study at their 2015 meeting.
AAOS Research Study (reference study)
The study monitored 90 patients who underwent rotator cuff repair. One group of 45 received stem cell injections and the other 45 in the control group did not. Both groups were similarly monitored.
After 6 months
- All 45 patients in the stem cell group had completely healed (100%)
- Only 30 patients in the control group had completely healed (67%).
After 10 Years
- 39 patients in the stem cell group had not developed another tear (87%)
- 20 patients in the control group had not developed another tear (40%).
Considering the small size of the study, these numbers are impressive in support of stem cell therapy. While large scale research is still lacking, there is an overwhelming number of individual success stories regarding using Stem Cell therapy to heal a rotator cuff injury.