HOUSTON – Rotator cuff injuries are very common. Doctors at Baylor College of Medicine said more than four million people in the U.S. are affected each year.
The injury is usually caused by degeneration of the tendon, which means athletes can be prone to this, but it also comes with old age.
Not every rotator cuff injury requires surgery, but when it does, patients hesitate to get it because of a required, long recovery.
Now, some doctors are using a collagen implant to absorb the strain on the rotator cuff and, they say, give it a better chance to heal.
Michael Lewis suffered pain in his shoulder for more than a year.
“I couldn't sleep on my right side, lifting my arm would hurt, any sort of exercise which I did regularly progressively got worse,” Lewis explained.
He bit the bullet and opted for surgery to fix a tear in his rotator cuff.
“The rotator cuff has little fibers in it, almost like fabric, so as you accumulate birthdays and the cuff just accumulates wear and tear it will thin and fray and sometimes even tear through all the way just like the fabric on a pair of jeans over your knees,” Dr. Theodore Shybut, orthopedic surgeon with Baylor College of Medicine & Baylor St. Luke’s.
Shybut is using a new procedure called a Rotation Medical Bioinductive Implant. It's a patch Shybut puts over the tear.
“Recovery after traditional rotator cuff repair is typically six to 12 months. So, anything you can do to make that easier or faster, better in the long haul, certainly is a benefit to people,” Shybut said.
“Everybody told me this is the most painful surgery except for heart surgery in terms of recovery and the pain level,” Lewis said.
But with the new implant, Lewis said it was surprisingly easier than he expected. He's already back to his routine tasks and working out.
“I had full mobility really at about five months or I felt like I could do anything I just had to keep it down until about six or seven [months],” Lewis said. “Now in just a little over seven [months], I’m ready to go and doing everything like I normally do.”
Shybut is cautiously optimistic that these results and shorter recovery could be the new standard for this kind of surgery.
The benefit to repairing rotator cuff injuries means relief from pain but there is an arthritis that can develop from injuries that don't heal properly.
So, in theory, this could help these patients prevent arthritis in their shoulder as well.