Recent studies have shown that balloon arthroplasty for rotator cuff repair could provide significant improvement in shoulder function.
Rotator cuff repairs can be notoriously painful and in more serious cases are considered irreparable. This leaves patients suffering with long-term functionality issues and often intense pain. In recent years, balloon arthroplasty has emerged as a possible solution for those diagnosed with severe, irreparable rotator cuff tears.
Understanding the balloon arthroplasty procedure
Prior to the introduction of this treatment, the only other option for irreparable tears was a procedure known as a reverse total shoulder replacement. This major operation involves completely repositioning the muscles so that the arm can move again, involving a long and painful recovery time. The balloon arthroplasty, on the other hand, is a much less invasive technique with reduced downtime.
Known as InSpace™, the procedure is largely beneficial for elderly patients who currently experience significant shoulder pain. The balloon comes in numerous sizes and is made from biodegradable polymer. The size used will depend upon the subacromial space available.
The balloon is inserted into the subacromial space via an arthroplasty procedure. It is then filled with a saline solution once it is in position. The surgeon then takes the joint through a range of different motions to ensure that the balloon is securely in place and isn’t likely to become dislodged.
As the procedure is performed via keyhole surgery, it can be carried out under local anaesthetic. This means patients can have the procedure and return home the same day.
What are the benefits of balloon arthroplasty?
Although balloon arthroplasty is a new procedure and isn’t yet approved by NICE, it has shown promising results in initial testing. The fact it is a fairly straightforward and non-invasive procedure compared to a reverse total shoulder replacement is a major benefit. It’s a low-risk option for patients who are reluctant to undergo major surgery.
It is worth noting that it isn’t necessarily a permanent solution. The balloon will naturally break down within six to twelve months. This means it can either be used as a temporary solution until the patient undergoes a reverse total shoulder replacement, or a new balloon can be inserted as and when it is required.
As far as scientific evidence goes, due to the infancy of the procedure, very little is known about its exact benefits and effectiveness. Some current scientific papers even suggest physiotherapy could be just as effective at helping to restore a good range of motion. However, that is based on rotator cuff tears which are reparable. It is therefore largely designed to treat irreparable injuries in older patients.
The recovery time is the most notable benefit, with patients requiring the use of a sling for around a week following the procedure. With reverse total shoulder replacement, the recovery takes an average six weeks.
Balloon arthroplasty has shown some promising early results for patients suffering with irreparable rotator cuff tears. However, further studies do need to be carried out to establish just how viable and effective the procedure is.