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Stem Cell Therapy For Rotator Cuff Injuries


The rotator cuff is made up of tendons and muscles known as supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor which attach the upper arm to the shoulder blade. These tendons allow the shoulder joint to rotate, hence the name “rotator” and secure the arm in its socket, hence the term “cuff”.

The rotator cuff is especially susceptible to injuries because of the flexibility of the shoulder joint. It is estimated that more than two million Americans consult their doctors for torn rotator cuffs each year. These rotator cuff tendons can be torn by overuse and falls especially if on an outstretched hand. Aging and its associated wear and tear process also predisposes the tendons to tearing.

Though these injuries can occur in any person, they most commonly develop in athletes who play tennis, baseball, volleyball and those who lift weights because they repeatedly engage in activities that require raising the arm over the head.

Symptoms of an acute rotator cuff tear, which can occur for example after a fall, include intense pain and a snapping sensation. These symptoms may be associated with weakness of the shoulder joint when lifting the arm.

Symptoms of a chronic rotator cuff tear which can occur as a result of aging, include a crackling sensation in the joint known as crepitus which is felt when moving the shoulder.

Most patients with rotator cuff tears usually have pain that is worst at night and aggravated by lying on the affected side. They may also experience pain when performing specific shoulder movements.

The treatment of torn rotator cuffs depends on the type and severity of the injury as well as the patient’s age, general health and occupation.

Currently, rotator cuff surgery is the most common treatment for rotator cuff injuries with more than 500,000 rotator cuff operations being done each year in the United States. However, these operations leave a lot to be desired and patients are now opting for more natural, non-surgical options like stem cell therapy.

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During rotator cuff surgery, the doctor cuts, moves and sews tissues within the shoulder joint. As a result of the manipulation and trauma, the recovery time is quite long and it involves wearing an arm sling for a month or longer. Once this restrictive sling is removed, the arm still needs time to heal completely and it may take up to 6 months before function is fully restored.

This is a pretty long period since the shoulder joint is required for many essential movements of the arm and forearm like eating and dressing. In addition the loss of function can also translate into loss of income if a person misses weeks of work.

On the other hand, the recovery time for stem cell therapy is quite short since it is a minimally invasive procedure that does not traumatize the shoulder joint like an operation. This relatively simple treatment involves harvesting the regenerative stem cells and concentrating them before they are injected them into the injured shoulder.

These reinjected stem cells are the source of numerous growth factors which help accelerate the healing process and shorten the healing time. As a result, patients are usually able to resume activities within a few hours though a 48 hour rest period is recommended to avoid complications. Patients also report significant improvements of their movements and pain threshold within a few days.

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Risks associated with rotator cuff surgery include infection, bleeding, blood clots and inadvertent damage to blood vessels and nerves. In addition, patients also have to contend with complications related to anesthesia like allergic reactions and breathing problems.

The biggest complication of stem cell therapy is infection. However, the fact that the stem cells injected into the shoulder are drawn from the patient’s body markedly reduces the risk of infections in stem cell therapy. The risk of bleeding is also minimal and that of anesthetic complications non-existent.

Rotator cuff surgery is not cheap. The fair market price for this operation as quoted by the Healthcare Bluebook is around $6,000. This figure does not include hospital admission costs and it doubles if revision surgery is required.

The cost of stem cell treatment for the shoulder ranges from $5,000 to $6,500 depending on where it is performed. However, since it is an office procedure there are no additional hospital admission costs.

Medical studies reveal that the failure rate of large rotator cuff repairs is 57%. This is an almost unacceptable rate especially for persons who rely on their shoulders for their livelihood like professional athletes.

The success rate for stem cell therapy for rotator cuff injuries is around 85%. The 15% failure rate of this treatment is a much better figure than the 57% of the operation.

Factors that contribute to the high failure rate of surgically repaired torn rotator cuffs include poor blood supply to the tendon and tendon degeneration. Stem cell therapy can ameliorate these problems since the injected stem cells can differentiate and regenerate all the tissues in the joint.

In addition, by growing and becoming specialized cells known as tenocytes, chondrocytes and osteoblasts which build the tendons, cartilage and bone respectively, stem cell therapy is also thought to help prevent rotator cuff tendon re-tears which occur in 20 – 90% of persons who have had rotator cuff surgery. By helping prevent them, stem cell treatment obviates the need for revision surgery to correct re-tear repairs and helps patients avoid another long recovery process. Injecting stem cells into the rotator tendons to be repaired is also thought to increase their fixation to the bones and possibly contribute to preventing re-tears.

Many athletes who have surgery to treat sport injuries never fully regain the performance level they had prior to the surgery. However, stem cell treatment helps restore full functionality of the shoulder joint. Studies even show that it improves the long-term durability of rotator cuff repairs.

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  • 2730 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 220
    Santa Monica, CA 90403
  • (310) 453-1234
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