Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery Alternatives | Prolotherapy PRP and stem cells

Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery Alternatives

Ross Hauser, MD and Katherine L. Worsnick, MPAS, PA-C

This article will present the latest research on surgery for complete rotator cuff tears. Please see our companion article for discussions of partial rotator cuff tear non-surgical treatments.

See our main page, Prolotherapy for shoulder pain to learn more about our regenerative treatments for shoulder pain. If you have questions about Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery alternatives, get help and information from Caring Medical

Research on the failure of rotator cuff surgery

Effectiveness and safety of surgery and growing concern over Rotator Cuff Surgery Failures

The research above should point out the obvious – There is a growing concern over Rotator Cuff Surgery Failures.

Shoulder Joint Instability

Surgery involves the permanent alteration of the body and when it comes to the rotator cuff, the major stabilizer of the shoulder. Surgery can cause more harm than good. Recovery time is often long and presents its own complications as indicated above where physical therapy is thought to cause re-tears.

It’s estimated that 10-70% of rotator cuff repairs cause repeated problems following surgery.

The problem with high re-tear rates may lie with physical therapy after the surgery

As noted in the above study, continues tendon injury and tear is common after rotator cuff repair. In the journal Clinical biomechanics, a team of Canadian researchers suggested that a problem could be physical therapy after the surgery

The problem of post-surgical shoulder stiffness presents another problem challenging to physical therapy: Research from the Department of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery, Campus Biomedico University of Rome publishing in the British Medical Bulletin says doctors have not been able to come up with a plan to help patients with post-surgical stiffness:

“The post-operative rehabilitation protocol remains controversial. We are still far from definitive guidelines for the management of pre- and post-operative stiffness”(4)

The problem with physical therapy and the surgery itself is that the tendons are not healing

In a study from Germany published in Operative Orthopedics and Traumatology, doctors found the problem of re-tear and tears are affected by many factors, but, predominantly, recurrent tears are due to non-healing of the rotator cuff tendons. For many people reading this article who had many shoulder operations, the following may sound very familiar. Tear, re-tear, surgery, re-tear, surgery, re-tear, surgery, until a stage of “permanent” shoulder instability is reached.

Back to the research paper we are citing. How many “successful” rotator cuff surgeries can your rotator cuff tendons take?

Does this sound like your case?

This is the standard course of treating difficult to treat rotator cuff repairs.

Research: The use of biological materials, stem cells and blood platelet during surgery may not enhance recovery

Many times a person suffering from rotator cuff pain will suggest that their surgeon says they can use stem cells or blood platelet solutions during the procedure and this will enhance healing. When we ask a patient how did this come up in conversation, they say they asked the surgeon about PRP and stem cells and were advised that they could get these treatments and the surgery too.

Doctors at the Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, University Hospital Bern wrote this in the journal Orthopaedics & Traumatology: Surgery & Research: (Explanatory notes and comments in the parenthesis). The doctors do summarize much of what we covered above.

Rotator cuff surgery is a dramatic surgery that involves a lot of cutting of tissue in a joint that by nature is hypermobile in all directions. Healing after surgery, no matter what healing enhancements are added during the surgery, will continue to be a great challenge.

When Rotator Cuff Tear Occurs – the shoulder turns into a hostile Non-Healing Environment – When surgery is performed your shoulder gets worse.

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles whose main function is to stabilize and provide support for the shoulder. The rotator cuff tendons attach the shoulder muscles to the bone. The four tendons are the supraspinatus, the subscapularis, the infraspinatus and the teres minor.

Partial or full thickness tear in the rotator cuff tendons can result from an impact injury and weakening of the tendon from wear and tear, immobility, and cortisone injections.

In a full thickness tear, the entire tendon has pulled off the bone. In a partial tear, only part of the tendon has pulled away from the bone. The tears can also be described as distal (further away from the bone) or proximal (closer to the bone).

A “hostile environment” are the words used to describe the shoulder capsule following a rotator cuff tear and “repair surgery,” in a recent study, doctors expressed concern about the post rotator cuff surgery healing environment.

Here is what doctors from the United Kingdom and the United States writing in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine had to say:

The goal of our treatment is to turn a hostile non-healing rotator cuff environment into a healing environment – stem cells and PRP after the surgery

University and medical researchers in Mexico published a comprehensive review of the use of stem cells in the healing of various degenerative and injuries of the joints and spine. When they got to rotator cuff tears this is what they said in the journal Stem Cell International:

In their research, the Mexican team found promising results but limit results in that stem cells could affect significant change in the formation of scar tissue during the surgery. In fact they cite the work of Dr. João L. Ellera Gomes in Brazil who published that dipping surgical suture in stem cells obtained from a bone marrow aspirate from the iliac crest and going through the bone to hold everything together (the transosseous approach), was effective for 12 out of 12 months at 12 months follow up.(8)

Stem Cell and Platelet Rich Plasma Injections as part of a Comprehensive Prolotherapy program

In Stem Cell Prolotherapy we use a person’s own healing cells from bone marrow, fat, and blood (alone or in various combinations) and inject them straight to the area which has a cellular deficiency.

Our ultimate goal with all forms of Prolotherapy is to get the patients back to doing the things that they want to do without pain. It is our hope that the Stem Cell Therapy (Cellular Prolotherapy) treatments will form functionally, structurally, and mechanically equal to, if not better than, living tissue which has been designed to replace (or work alongside) damaged tissue. It is hard to prove the above statement because we cannot sacrifice human beings after Prolotherapy to see if the tissue looks and acts normally. We can, however, report that the majority of our patients who receive Stem Cell Therapy along with traditional Hackett-Hemwall Prolotherapy get back to activities and have dramatically decreased pain levels using this comprehensive approach.

Listen to this research from doctors at Washington University published in the Arthritis research & therapy

Problems with rotator cuff recovery and healing time following rotator cuff surgery has long been the concern of doctors and of course patients, because doctors face the challenge of poor tendon healing and irreversible changes associated with rotator cuff degenerative diseases, future treatments should involve non-surgical biologics and tissue engineering (Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy and Mesenchymal stem cell therapy). These treatments should be explored because they hold a promise to improve outcomes for patients suffering from shoulder problems.(9)

Which again begs the question, in certain tears why not try the PRP and stem cells as injections without the surgery as opposed to a surgical past?

The goal of the surgery is to repair and restore function but for many patients, this is NOT achieved. Doctors are looking at Platelet Rich Plasma and stem cell injections to regrow the damaged tissue in the shoulder.

German researchers in Munich wrote in Der Orthopäde: “Due to the increasing demand for functionality in an aging yet physically active society, the treatment of rotator cuff tears is of ever-growing importance. Despite intensive research efforts, the treatment of degenerative rotator cuff tears, in particular, their long-term outcome is still a challenge.”

An explanation – what they are saying is that patients, especially aging athletes and people who work at jobs that require strength, demand a functioning shoulder – surgery is not the answer. 

“While in recent years the focus was on biomechanics and the technical aspects of rotator cuff reconstruction (surgery), attention has now turned to the biological considerations of tendon regeneration. (healing)”(13)

Goal of treatment: Patients want function in their shoulders

Doctors at the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York acknowledged that surgery did not offer what the patients wanted both pain relief and function. 

In the journal Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine, they wrote: “There is some controversy over the role of arthroscopy in the management of irreparable rotator cuff tears. Arthroscopic debridement, partial repair with margin convergence, biceps tenotomy or tenodesis, and more recently suprascapular nerve release have all been described as potential treatments. The literature would suggest that they are effective at alleviating pain, but have little effect on strength.”(14)

Shoulder ProlotherapySo slowly the wheels of medicine are changing – fortunately, biological considerations – non-surgical injection therapy designed to regenerate your shoulder can be offered at Caring Medical today.

Let’s review the research – here are highlights:

Comprehensive Prolotherapy treatment for torn rotator cuff without surgery

Shoulder ultrasound examinationThe recurrent theme in the research throughout this article is: Despite surgical improvements – surgical failures continue. This is echoed further in the research below:

“Despite improved surgical techniques, the tendon-to-bone healing rate is unsatisfactory due to difficulties in restoring the delicate transitional tissue between bone and tendon.”(15This same research from doctors in Spain also says Mesenchymal stem cell therapy is a potentially effective therapy to enhance rotator cuff healing and prevent complications.

These researchers base this opinion on the fact that stem cell therapy increases the amount of fibrocartilage formation. This is the tissue that helps make up ligaments, tendons, and cartilage and are specifically marked for studies on tissue engineering.

But treating the tendon interface and the shoulder ligaments is something that Prolotherapy does as well.

In new research in the medical journal Orthopaedics & Traumatology, Surgery & Research, doctors tested the effectiveness of Prolotherapy in difficult chronic refractory rotator cuff tears. They were hoping to find that dextrose prolotherapy would reduce pain and improve shoulder function and patient satisfaction.


Are you a candidate for our non-surgical treatments? Get help and information from Caring Medical

References for Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery | Why the high failure rate?

1. Coghlan JA, Buchbinder R, Green S, Johnston RV, Bell SN. Surgery for rotator cuff disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1. Art. [Google Scholar]
2. McCarron JA, Derwin KA, Bey MJ, Polster JM, Schils JP, Ricchetti ET, Iannotti JP. Failure with continuity in rotator cuff repair “healing”. The American journal of sports medicine. 2013 Jan;41(1):134-41.  [Google Scholar]
3 Haering D, Blache Y, Raison M, Begon M. Mechanical risk of rotator cuff repair failure during passive movements: A simulation-based study. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2015 Dec;30(10):1181-8. [Google Scholar]
4 Papalia R, Franceschi F, Vasta S, Gallo A, Maffulli N, Denaro V. Shoulder stiffness and rotator cuff repair. Br Med Bull. 2012 Feb 14. [Google Scholar]
5 Scheibel M. Recurrent defects of the rotary cuff : Causes and therapeutic strategies Oper Orthop Traumatol. 2012 Nov;24(6):458-67. doi: 10.1007/s00064-012-0179-2. [Google Scholar]
6 Zumstein MA, Lädermann A, Raniga S, Schär MO. The biology of rotator cuff healing. Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2016 Dec 30. pii: S1877-0568(16)30191-8. doi: 10.1016/j.otsr.2016.11.003. [Google Scholar]
7 Murray IR, LaPrade RF, Musahl V, Geeslin AG, Zlotnicki JP, Mann BJ, Petrigliano FA. Concepts, Future Research, and Barriers to Advancement, Part 2: Orthop J Sports Med. 2016 Mar 31;4(3):2325967116636586. [Google Scholar]
8 Berebichez-Fridman R, Gómez-García R, Granados-Montiel J, Berebichez-Fastlicht E, Olivos-Meza A, Granados J, Velasquillo C, Ibarra C. The Holy Grail of Orthopedic Surgery: Mesenchymal Stem Cells—Their Current Uses and Potential Applications. Stem cells international. 2017;2017.  [Google Scholar]
9. Killian ML, Cavinatto L, Galatz LM, Thomopoulos S. Recent advances in shoulder research. Arthritis research & therapy. 2012 Jun 15;14(3):214. [Google Scholar]
10. Kim SJ, Song DH, Park JW, Park S, Kim SJ. Effect of Bone Marrow Aspirate Concentrate Platelet-Rich Plasma on Tendon Derived Stem Cells and Rotator Cuff Tendon Tear. Cell Transplant. 2017 Jan 20. [Google Scholar]
11. Yoon JP, Chung SW, Kim JY, Lee BJ, Kim HS, Kim JE, Cho JH. Outcomes of Combined Bone Marrow Stimulation and Patch Augmentation for Massive Rotator Cuff Tears. Am J Sports Med. 2016 Apr;44(4):963-71. doi: 10.1177/0363546515625044. Epub 2016 Feb 5. [Google Scholar]
12Degen RM, Carbone A, Carballo C, Zong J, Chen T, Lebaschi A, Ying L, Deng XH, Rodeo SA. The Effect of Purified Human Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells on Rotator Cuff Tendon Healing in an Athymic Rat. Arthroscopy. 2016 Dec;32(12):2435-2443. [Google Scholar]
13. Ficklscherer A, Pietschmann MF, Bendiks M, Roßbach BP, Müller PE. [Clinical management of rotator cuff tears: Current concepts in cell-based therapy strategies].Orthopade. 2016 Feb;45(2):143-8. doi: 10.1007/s00132-015-3213-x. German. [Google Scholar]
14. Khair MM, Gulotta LV. Treatment of irreparable rotator cuff tears. Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine. 2011 Dec 1;4(4):208. [Google Scholar]
15. Mora MV, Ibán MA, Heredia JD, Laakso RB, Cuéllar R, Arranz MG. Stem cell therapy in the management of shoulder rotator cuff disorders. World J Stem Cells. 2015 May 26;7(4):691-9. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v7.i4.691. [Google Scholar]
16. Seven MM, Ersen O, Akpancar S, Ozkan H, Turkkan S, Yıldız Y, Koca K. Effectiveness of prolotherapy in the treatment of chronic rotator cuff lesions. Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2017 [Google Scholar]
17. Kim SJ, Kim EK, Kim SJ. Effects of bone marrow aspirate concentrate and platelet-rich plasma on patients with partial tear of the rotator cuff tendon. Journal of orthopaedic surgery and research. 2018 Dec;13(1):1. [Google Scholar]

Make an Appointment |

Subscribe to E-Newsletter
Find out if you are a good candidate
First Name:
Last Name:

Enter code:

for your symptoms

Prolotherapy, an alternative to surgery

Were you recommended SURGERY?
Get a 2nd opinion now!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★We pride ourselves on 5-Star Patient Service!Come see why patients travel from all
over the world to visit our clinics.
Current Patients
Become a New Patient

Chicagoland Office
715 Lake St., Suite 600
Oak Park, IL 60301
(708) 393-8266 Phone
(855) 779-1950 Fax
Southwest Florida Office
9738 Commerce Center Ct.
Fort Myers, FL 33908
(239) 308-4701 Phone
(855) 779-1950 Fax Fort Myers, FL Office
We are an out-of-network provider.
© 2018 | All Rights Reserved | Disclaimer
National Prolotherapy Centers specializing in Comprehensive Prolotherapy,
Stem Cell Therapy, and Platelet Rich Plasma.

Meet our Prolotherapy Doctors and check out our Prolotherapy research.