Tears in the rotator cuff can occur by injury, such as over-stressing the shoulder, or they can start to form in middle age with normal wear and tear.  These types of injuries can make the entire arm weak, as well as make simple activities such as reaching, combing your hair or even sleeping difficult and uncomfortable.   Treating rotator cuff injuries with precise injections of patient-derived adult stem cells is one of my specialties as the Medical Director of Stem Cell International.

Recently, we had a student athlete come to Stem Cell International with a rotator cuff tear and was told that he was going to need surgery. He came to our office and after treatment with our stem cell procedure he had a complete recovery.  To understand why he had such a good response let’s dive into understanding what a rotator cuff tear is.

The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles and tendons in the shoulder which provide support to help stabilize the shoulder joint and allow for a full range of motion (especially lifting) as a part of this complex ball and socket joint.  When an MRI shows a tear in the rotator cuff and there is shoulder pain, physical therapy is often tried first, but if that fails to improve the symptoms then rotator cuff surgery is often the next recommendation.  With developments in stem cell therapy, surgery is no longer necessary for most rotator cuff tears. 

Why are stem cell treatments so appropriate for rotator cuff tears?  It seems that our gene expression plays a part in rotator cuff healing, with fewer of our healing stem cells being called upon to repair the injured tendon or to help with the healing following rotator cuff surgery.  Recent research has supported this and also suggests that 60% or more of those who undergo a rotator cuff surgical repair for large tears experience a failure of the repair and a re-tear of the rotator cuff injury.  Other research has shown that if you’ve passed middle age (over 60 years of age), the news isn’t good either, as one out of three people that undergo rotator cuff surgery don’t heal at all.  What about shoulder pain?  Does rotator cuff surgery at least address the pain?  In our experience, a high percentage of patients who have had the surgery are still in pain.  Why is this?  A lot of the time the pain isn’t due to the rotator cuff tear.  This is especially true with people in the middle age group (or older), as the pain is a result of normal wear and tear.  Some other causes could be inflammation, how a person experiences pain, or a nerve that comes out of the neck could have become irritated and is presenting as shoulder pain.  

What about the person with an obvious traumatic injury such as a football lineman who is pushing off in a competitive competition?  Is surgery OK for these people?  Recent research has shown that surgery is no better than simply participating in physical therapy.  A longer term study showed that 5 years later, 75% of patients with full thickness rotator cuff tears who had conservative home base treatment still had successful outcomes without surgery.  Also, many patients who have had rotator cuff surgery often find that they are unable to have a full range of motion of their shoulder after they have been operated on.

Back to our patient…. this young man had a partial tear of his subscapularis muscle, which is part of the rotator cuff complex.  He received a precise stem cell injection (with his own body’s adipose derived cells) into the muscle belly under ultrasound guidance.  The student athlete tolerated our procedure well and I’m happy to report that one year later, he is again participating in football as a running back without any pain, is able to lift weights and do all the things that a competitive athlete does playing organized football.  Originally, I believe his mother was skeptical that our procedure would work, but now she is a believer!  He recently reported that he is able to bench press over 250 lbs. without any pain or weakness, showing just how powerful our stem cell treatments can be!  He is ecstatic that he is able to play high level football again and avoided surgically repairing his rotator cuff. 

What’s the most important message here?  The young man that I treated was able to avoid surgery and went back to playing football and wrestling in a fraction of the time versus the recovery time surgery would have required.  Regenerative medicine is a great alternative for some conditions that surgery has traditionally been required for (but not all).  If this sounds like something that would benefit you, please give our office a call and we will assess your problem with a FREE consultation, review the injured area with Ultrasound, and provide you with a precise treatment plan to potentially help you heal your shoulder injury.   I look forward to seeing you soon!

In Good Health,

Dr. Jack Siebenaler, MD