The rotator cuff is where four muscles and several tendons form a covering around the top of the humerus, the upper arm bone, in the shoulder. While tears in this region of the shoulder can occur with the wear and tear of using the shoulder over years, a rotator cuff tear is also a common injury we see in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases. This type of injury can occur in many different ways, including lifting or falling on the shoulder. Even repetitive use of the shoulder at work over years can lead to a compensable work-related rotator cuff tear.
A torn rotator cuff is generally categorized as either small, medium, large or massive. Initial treatment for a tear usually consists of “conservative” (non-surgical) options, such as physical therapy, medications and/or injections. If these conservative methods do not relieve the problem, surgery may be indicated.
The problem comes with the “massive” rotator cuff tears. These tears used to be called irreparable. The injured worker was left with only two choices – either live with the pain and disability, or have a “debridement procedure” performed (this is a surgical procedure where the area is cleaned out, though the tear is not repaired). In the past, the injured worker remained on workers’ compensation benefits, and remained unable to perform ordinary daily activities of living, let alone work.
These days, though, the injured worker with a massive rotator cuff tear has some better choices. Technology has brought potential real solutions to the irreparable rotator cuff tear. One such method is the Latissimus Dorsi Tendon Transfer procedure, in which a tendon is borrowed from the patient’s arm or shoulder and used to replace the ruined one in the rotator cuff. This procedure is said to require less than two hours of surgery, and only entail a single overnight hospital stay. A study was performed on the effectiveness of this procedure recently, in part authored by local orthopedic surgeons Dr. Gerald Williams, Dr. Shawn Hennigan, Dr. Sami Kella and Dr. Joseph Iannotti.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the arthroscopic Graft Jacket Allograft procedure, which remains in its early stages. It appears one of the biggest advantages to this surgery is that the procedure is “arthroscopic,” where the cuts are only small holes, rather than the large incisions required for open surgery. Here, the patient’s torn rotator cuff is repaired with a human cadaver graft, in a procedure said to last about four hours.
While these new developments in treatment for rotator cuff tears offer hope to patients, including those on Pennsylvania workers’ compensation, it is always wise to consult with your doctor, to determine the best course of treatment for your particular case.