Repairing Torn Rotator Cuffs

It’s like a sleeve that wraps around your shoulder joint, allowing you to raise, lower and move your arm. But when the rotator cuff tears, it makes even the simplest arm movement painful and difficult. There are several surgical options to fix limited rotator cuff tears, but in the worst of these injuries, there wasn’t much doctors could do. Now, a new experimental procedure is changing that.

65-year-old James Barrow loves to play golf but a year and a half ago, he couldn’t lift his right arm too high. An accident severed tendons in his shoulder, making even simple things seem impossible.

“One of the physicians I saw early on told me there was nothing they could do," James Barrow said.

Emory sports medicine specialist doctor Spero Karas developed a new procedure to fix these massive tears using a surgically placed cadaver tissue graft to replace and reattach the defective tendon.

“We sew the graft into the patient’s native rotator cuff and use that graft to bridge the defect over to the bone and then we reattach the graft to the bone,” Spero G. Karas, M.D., associate professor of orthopedics at Emory Healthcare Sports Medicine, explained.

Early studies show this experimental graft-to-bone technique is a safe and effective repair. A year after surgery, James feels like a success story every time he picks up a club. He's an avid golfer who’s back in the swing of an active retirement.

Reporting this new graft-to-bone repair is not FDA approved. However, grafts are currently FDA approved to add strength to traditional rotator cuff repairs.

Rotator Repair -- Research Summary

BACKGROUND: The rotator cuff is made up of the muscles and tendons in your shoulder. These muscles and tendons connect your upper arm bone with your shoulder blade. They also help hold the ball of the upper arm bone firmly in the shoulder socket. Any type of irritation or damage to your rotator cuff muscles or tendons is considered a rotator cuff injury. According to Emory HealthCare, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of adults over age 50 have some degree of rotator cuff tearing. Common causes may include falling; lifting; and repetitive arm activities such as throwing a baseball or placing items on overhead shelves. About 50 percent of the time, a rotator cuff injury will heal with self-care measures or exercise therapy. (SOURCE: The Mayo Clinic)

STANDARD TREATMENTS: Physical therapy is a common treatment for rotator cuff injuries. Other treatments may include steroid injections or surgery. If a patient has a large tear, doctors may remove a bone spur or calcium deposits during surgery. The surgery may be performed as an open repair (through a 2 1/2 - to 4- inch incision) or as a mini-open repair (through a 1 ¼- to 2-inch incision). Arthritis may occur over time in patients with rotator cuff tears. In severe cases, doctors may suggest partial shoulder replacement or total shoulder replacement. A unique treatment option now available involves the use of a reverse ball-and-socket prosthesis. This reverse shoulder prosthesis is most appropriate for people who have very difficult shoulder problems. (SOURCE: The Mayo Clinic)

A NEW OPTION: Spero Karas, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedics at Emory University and head team physician for the Atlanta Falcons, has developed a new procedure to fix massive rotator cuff tears. He uses a surgically-placed cadaver tissue graft to replace and reattach the defective tendon. This new graft-to-bone repair is not FDA-approved. However, grafts are currently FDA-approved to add strength to traditional rotator cuff repairs. Early studies show it is safe and effective. This technique only works for certain types of rotator cuff tears. (SOURCE: Emory HealthCare)

For More Information, Please Contact:

Emory HealthConnection Atlanta, GA (404) 778-7777 or (800) 75-EMORY

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