Grafts being used to help heal rotator cuff injuries

December 29, 2011 6:38:35 PM PST
It seems like all of us know someone who has a rotator cuff injury. Almost 2 million people a year injure or tear one of those four muscles in the shoulder. And they're not all athletes.

Now there's help. A Houston surgeon has invented a better way to repair the rotator cuff.

Stefan Maul's right rotator cuff had torn. He tore it so badly he could no longer work as a butcher. But now, he can play pool and shoot with his right arm.

What happened? He points to tiny scars from a new surgery he had that gave him his arm back.

"Now after the surgery, it's been great, he's got full use of his arm," said Stefan's wife, Sandra Maul.

St. Luke's surgeon Dr. Marc Labbe came up with a way to add strength when he repairs a tear. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles in the shoulder that can tear away from the bone, so Dr. Labbe came up with the idea of using a graft to make the repaired muscle stronger.

"It's kind of like patching the elbow on your coat or the knee on your jeans. We've got the normal repair, so you've got the tendon attaching to the bone, and then on top of that, we've got this extra patch of material," he said.

They did a study comparing rotator cuff surgery with and without the graft.

"There was an 85 percent healing rate in the patients with the graft and only a 45 percent healing rate in the patients that did not have the graft," said Dr. Allen Deutsch, an orthopedic surgeon with Kelsey-Seybold.

The St. Luke's surgeons said the graft is especially helpful for people with a large tear and they think it could help people avoid re-tearing the muscle and avoid the arthritis and stiffness that often follows a rotator cuff injury.

"It's really allowed me to push the limits of what we can really fix with patients' rotator cuffs," Dr. Labbe said.

The rehab after surgery takes about the same length of time. But for Stefan, the fact that he could even do these exercises with his right arm was a gift.

"If he did every one of my surgeries like this, I would be an athlete," Stefan said.

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