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Medical Moment: Balloon spacer helps rotator cuff injuries

Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 8:28 PM EST
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Every year, almost two million people go to their doctor for a rotator cuff problem.

A torn one can limit a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and can cause them pain. And with age comes greater risk of having a bad tear…

But a simple tool is giving people their lives back.

69-year-old Cathi Mintautas calls herself the bionic woman. “I’ve had four rotator cuff surgeries,” she says. “I had four knee operations: one knee replacement and two hip replacements.”

Mintautas has also had two carpal tunnel surgeries and one ankle surgery. When she started feeling symptoms of a retear in her left shoulder, she knew something had to be done.

“Significant amount of pain, aches, sleepless nights and I was only able to move my arm up a certain amount,” she says.

“In older patients, what we find is as the tendon tears start to get larger and the tendon starts to retract, and the blood quality starts to deteriorate simply by the aging process, some of these tears cannot be repaired,” says Orthopedic Surgeon Nikhil Verma.

That’s why Dr. Verma came up with a different solution. “Rather than repairing the tendon, what we actually do is put a small spacer that sits between the top bone, our humerus, which is the top of our shoulder, and the top of our shoulder blade,” Verma says.

Filling in the hole left by the tear and eliminating the need for full surgery. Allowing for less pain, quicker recovery, and the ability to get back to normal activities sooner.

“It was less painful, and I didn’t have to take as many pain medications,” Mintautas says.

Four years after the procedure, Mintautas’ rotator cuff still keeps her in the swing of things.

Compared to a repair where the recovery is six to eight months, the recovery period for the balloon spacer is about 10 weeks.

The balloon spacer will completely dissolve 12 months after the procedure. However, patients can still feel the effects of the spacer even after it’s dissolved.

Researchers are still studying how long the effects will last.

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