Your rotator cuff problem may have started when you worked as a painter or carpenter, moving your arm repeatedly overhead. It may have occurred when you fell in the kitchen and your arm was outstretched before you hit it the floor. Or
maybe when you tried to pick up a child that suddenly jerked away from you.
However it happened, your shoulder hasn’t acted normal ever since. It’s difficult to lift your arm upwards more than a few inches and lifting it to the position where you shampoo your hair could be just about impossible at times. Dressing takes three times as long, driving causes pain, and even doing simple household tasks is unbearable.
What’s A Rotator Cuff Problem?
Your doctor diagnosed the condition as a rotator cuff problem. The rotator cuff muscles are the muscles and tendons that attach to the humerus bone that allow your arm to rotate.
There are two types of rotator cuff tears: a partial tear and a complete tear. A complete rotator cuff tear is the worst because the tendon that connects the humerus (arm) bone to the scapula (shoulder blade) has been torn off the bone or
the tear split down the entire tendon. Your doctor may have told you that your rotator cuff problem is almost a complete tear and he only had one recommendation: surgery.
In the first picture, notice how the head of the humerus fits into the scapula. In the second photo, note how how different muscles situated on top of the scapula attach to the humerus via a white band of tendon called the rotator cuff. In the third photo, the image reveals the actual rotator cuff “band”, which is affected when the band is torn off the humerus in an injury. The result is shoulder instability.
Surgery May Not Be Enough For Rotator Cuff Problems
If you don’t get surgery for a complete rotator cuff tear, doctors often expect a downhill progression leading to disability. Have you already experienced this?
Even with surgery, life won’t necessarily be all peachy perfect with everything back to normal. Doctors know that it’s common for four problems after surgery:
1. Functional impairment where you still can’t move your arm and shoulder as it should move
2. Muscle atrophy where the muscles of the shoulder shrink and the appearance of your shoulders looks different on the affected side
3. Muscle fattening where the shoulder muscles gain noticeable fat
4. Muscle fibrosis where you can feel there’s restriction inside the shoulder, something that is preventing you from moving your shoulder
The big problem is that the tissues in between the bone and the tendon are difficult to restore. This restoration doesn’t happen during surgery; the body has to somehow fill in the gaps and take care of it. It actually does this on its own to a
small extent – with its own stem cells.
Doctors have done the best they could with advancements in surgical techniques but still after the surgery, other things can go wrong. The rotator cuff tendons can re-rupture – and statistics are as high as 60% for this to occur.
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Stem Cell Treatment for Rotator Cuff Syndrome
Now there may be a new treatment that helps restore the function of the shoulder while decreasing pain, the muscle shrinkage, muscle fattening and fibrosis. It may also lower the re-rupture rate significantly.
It’s called stem cell treatment for rotator cuff tear.
Animal studies proved that the rotator cuff ruptures could indeed be repaired. These studies took place in Germany, California, Michigan and in Spain, and more importantly, the scientists reported that the usual problems of rotator cuff tears – fatty degeneration, muscle atrophy, pain and fibrosis were significantly lessened from the stem cell treatments.
The rate of reduction in fibrosis was 40% in rat studies using human adult stem cells for the repair. And that was only after two weeks post stem cell injection.
Doctors from Spain stated that “Promising results have been reported with the use of autologous mesenchymal stem cells of different origins in animal studies: they have shown to have better healing properties, increasing the amount of
fibrocartilage formation and improving the orientation of fibrocartilage fibers with less immunologic response and reduced lymphocyte infiltration. All these changes lead to an increase in biomechanical strength.”
That’s exactly what you want to heal your rotator cuff problem but by 2015, there had only been one human study using stem cells to repair rotator cuff tendon tears.
Fourteen lucky patients decided to become volunteers and all had positive results. The patients received mesenchymal stem cells – cells that can become any one of a variety of cell types that are necessary for the repair of the tendon to occur. And they all were successfully recovering from the injury with no problems whatsoever.
Another study of humans with rotator cuff problems used three different dosages of stem cells into the damaged rotator cuff area of the shoulder.
These Korean researchers found that no matter what dosage was used, the results were good. They found no side effects but a significant decrease in the Shoulder Pain and Disability Index by 80%. The patients’ shoulder pain reduced by 71% in the group that received the highest dose of stem cells. MRI imaging studies showed a decrease in the size of the defect on the bursa side by 90% in the high dose group and 83% in the mid-high group. The stem cells had regenerated the rotator cuff tendon.
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What evidence do you have that stem cells are actually doing the work and repairing the rotator cuff problems?
German researchers reported in March 2018 that injecting stem cells was purposeful and the stem cells could be tracked. At the three-week and six-week marks, they found the stem cells had migrated from the bursa where they had been injected – to the rotator cuff tendons.
They concluded that the mesenchymal stem cells from the bursal tissue can contribute to the healing and progress of the repaired rotator cuff.
Many doctors currently say there aren’t enough studies on the topic yet proving that stem cells work for rotator cuff tears. How much is enough? There are other medical topics where thousands of patients have been involved in medical studies proving that certain therapies work but even these also don’t ever seem to be enough.
Sometimes you have to make up your own mind.