A new discovery made by Uconn Health researchers, could revolutionise the way rotator cuff tears are treated forever. Using stem cells, the researchers found that they could regenerate the tendons, completely repairing the tear without surgery. This exciting discovery provides hope, particularly for athletes, that this common shoulder issue could be treated quickly and almost painlessly.
How would stem cell rotator cuff repair work?
In order to regenerate the tendons, it requires a nano-textured fabric seed complete with stem cells. It is the introduction of the nano-textured fabric along with the stem cells that’s important in the effectiveness of the stem cell rotator cuff repair treatment. Surgeons have already used stem cells occasionally in the past, injecting them in the tear of the rotator cuff. However, on their own, they haven’t proven to be very successful.
The nano-textured fabric seed appears to significantly increase the success of the treatment. With the seeds help, the stem cells found it much easier to attach to the bone. This resulted in regrown tendons that weren’t just repaired, but they were stronger afterwards too. The cell structure appeared to look just like undamaged and natural tissue. This contrasts to current surgical treatment which often leaves an unorganised cell structure, causing the tendons to grow back weaker.
It’s worth noting that this stem cell rotator cuff repair treatment has only been tested on animals. So, human trials would need to be conducted in order to establish whether it presents the same benefits.
Understanding rotator cuff tears
Rotator cuff tears are extremely common, and they’re typically caused by repetitive micro-trauma. That means, they develop over time, whether it be weeks or even years. Once the tendon becomes torn, it causes the shoulder to weaken, which ultimately leads to pain when you try to carry out normal, everyday activities such as brushing your hair.
A lot of the time, torn tendons actually start out by fraying. Then, often after lifting a heavy object, and after a period of time where the damage becomes worse, the tendon finally tears.
Rotator cuff tears are categorised as partial and full-thickness tears. With the partial tear, the tendon becomes damaged, but it doesn’t completely tear. A full-thickness tear on the other hand, occurs when the tendon comes completely away from the bone.
These tears often result in extreme pain, even when the patient is resting, or lying in bed at night. So, the fact these common tears could soon be repaired by stem cells is definitely welcome news for patients. However, until these stem cells can be used as a mainstream treatment, what options do patients have in the meantime?
Current rotator cuff treatment options
There are numerous treatment options available right now, including injections, surgery and physical therapy. The treatment that’s right for you will depend upon the severity of the tear. Surgery tends to be used for the most severe, painful rotator cuff tears, and there’s many different methods that can be used.
If you suspect you have a rotator cuff tear, it’s best to get it diagnosed as soon as possible. The earlier it is detected, the less invasive the treatment will be. For example, a minor tear could repair itself with physiotherapy. So, if you want to avoid surgery, always get your shoulder pain checked out as quickly as possible.