Balloons being used to repair shoulder rotator cuff injuries

Author: Amy Oshier Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Shoulder rotator cuff injuries are extremely painful for the patient and challenging for surgeons. But one new surgical technique involving balloons is giving surgeons an additional way to repair the tear.

Every year, 2 million people experience a tear in their rotator cuff. Rotator cuffs surround the shoulder joint, keeping the upper arm bone firmly within the shoulder socket.

“With a rotator cuff tear, this pulls off; it’s ripped off of this part of the bone,” said Dr. Gregory Gasbarro with Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center. “Often you’ll have a biceps problem that occurs along with it. The idea is if you lose that top rotator cuff tendon, the ball goes up in the joint, as opposed to towards the socket.”

Now, balloon spacers are providing surgeons with much-needed help in the operating room.

“You put it in just as an unfilled balloon, think of it that way, and then you pump the fluid saline into it and it props open that space,” Gasbarro said.

Balloon spacers, recently approved by the FDA, come in different sizes, so Gasbarro determines the appropriate size of the balloon to fill the space.

“You put small holes around the shoulder about the size of your pinky nail,” Gasbarro said. “Put a camera to the joint and use tools in and out of the other holes to manipulate these balloons, the rotator cuff, whatever you’re fixing.”

Balloon spacers can be used in patients older than 65 without arthritis who can still elevate their arms above the level of their chin.

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