Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery: Adding in Stem Cells to Surgery Dramatically Improves Healing

Is there anyway to improve rotator cuff surgery recovery? Several studies have shown rather high retear or non-healing rates when shoulder rotator cuff tears are surgically repaired. Now a new study shows that adding in stem cells can help to heal these tears more completely.

Rotator cuff tears are a big problem as we age. The muscles of the rotator cuff help to stabilize and move the shoulder. When torn, the shoulder can lose strength, become painful, and begin to get stiff. Surgical repairs of the area aren’t really all their cracked up to be, with high rates of non-healing of the tear. For certain types of rotator cuff tears, we’ve seen healing with just an injection of the patient’s own stem cells and without the surgery. However, what happens when you add stem cells to a surgical repair?

A recent study looked back on 10 years of experience in using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) added to surgical repairs of torn rotator cuff tendons. The study included a 10 year follow-up of patients who had a same day stem cell type injection from bone marrow (similar to our Regenexx-SD procedure, but with fewer stem cells) along with arthroscopic repair of the rotator cuff. On MRI and ultrasound imaging follow-up, forty-five (100 %) of the 45 repairs with MSCs had healed by six months, versus 30 (67 %) of the 45 repairs without MSC treatment by six months. Bone marrow concentrate (BMC) injection also prevented further ruptures during the next ten years. At the most recent follow-up of ten years, intact rotator cuffs were found in 39 (87 %) of the 45 patients in the MSC-treated group, but just 20 (44 %) of the 45 patients in the control group.

The upshot? Bone marrow stem cell type procedures, with fewer stem cells than we commonly use everyday, seem to have helped patients heal at a much higher rate and have improved the strength and integrity of the surgical repair over the long-run. This is consistent with the results we’ve seen without surgery, only through an exacting injection of the patient’s own stem cells into the tear. In fact, many patients in this group were follow-uped with injections of stem cells into the rotator cuff after the surgical repair, so whether the surgery was needed in the first place isn’t answered by this study. Having said that, for larger tears that aren’t appropriate for injection therapy, this study is very encouraging that combining surgery with stem cell injections may be very helpful in healing these larger tendon tears!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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