Getting into the swing of things

April 20, 2011 2:58:00 PM PDT
It can make the simplest of arm movements painful. But a new option is now available for people faced with rotator cuff tears.

65 year-old James barrow loves to play golf, that all changed when a severe shoulder injury almost ended this his game for good. A year and a half ago, he couldn't lift his right arm because of an accident that severed tendons in his shoulder, making even simple things seem impossible.

"One of the physicians I saw early on told me there was nothing they could do," said Barrow.

A rotator cuff is like a sleeve that wraps around your shoulder joint, allowing you to raise, lower and move your arm. But when the rotator cuff tears, it makes even the simplest arm movement painful and difficult. There are several surgical options to fix limited rotator cuff tears, but in the worst of these injuries, there wasn't much doctors could do. Now, a new experimental procedure is changing that.

Dr. Spero Karas, an associate professor of orthopedics at Emory University and head team physician for the Atlanta Falcons, has developed a new procedure to fix massive rotator cuff tears. He uses a surgically-placed cadaver tissue graft to replace and reattach the defective tendon.

"We sew the graft into the patient's native rotator cuff and use that graft to bridge the defect over to the bone and then we reattach the graft to the bone," said Dr. Karas.

"So instead of the native rotator cuff here, we have cuff, graft and bone," said Dr. Karas. Early studies show this experimental graft-to-bone technique is a safe and effective repair.

A year after surgery, Barrow feels like a success story every time he picks up a club. An avid golfer who's back in the swing of an active retirement.

This new graft-to-bone repair is not FDA approved, however, grafts are currently FDA approved to add strength to traditional rotator cuff repairs.
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