Balloon Spacer Fixes Hard to Repair Rotator Cuffs


CHICAGO, Ill. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— Every year, almost two million people go to their doctor for a rotator cuff problem. A torn rotator cuff can limit a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and can cause them pain. With age comes greater risk of having an irreparable rotator cuff tear. But a simple tool is giving people their lives back, balloon spacer.

Sixty-nine-year-old Cathi Mintautas calls herself the bionic woman.

Mintautas explained, “I’ve had four rotator cuff surgeries. I had four knee operations. One knee replacement and two hip replacements.”

Along with two carpal tunnel surgeries and one ankle surgery. When Mintautas 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,” Mintautas told Ivanhoe.

Nikhil Verma, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush detailed, “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.”

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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,” continued Dr. Verma.

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,” shared Cathi after she had the balloon spacer procedure.

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

Compared to a tear repair where the recovery is six to eight months, the recovery period for the balloon spacer is about ten weeks. The balloon spacer is biodegradable and will completely dissolve by 12 months after the procedure. However, patients can still feel the effects of the spacer even after it has dissolved. Researchers are still studying how long the effects of the balloon spacer will last.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; and Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4996

ROTATOR CUFF TEAR BACKGROUND: A rotator cuff tear is common among adults; in fact almost two million people are visiting their doctors due to rotator cuff pain in the U.S. each year. A torn rotator cuff weakens the shoulder making daily activities like brushing your hair, getting dressed or ready for the day painful. The shoulder has three bones, the upper arm bone or humerus, the shoulder blade or scapula, and the collar bone or clavicle. The humerus fits into a shallow socket in the shoulder blade. The arm is kept in its place in the socket because of your rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a barrier around the top of the humerus. The rotator cuff attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade and allows you to lift and rotate your arm. There is also a sack called the ‘bursa’ that lubricates this area and allows the tendons to glide freely when you move your arm. When you injure your rotator cuff this sack can also become painful and inflamed.


ROTATOR CUFF TEAR DIAGNOSING: if you are feeling pain in the rotator cuff your doctor will perform a physical exam by pressing on different parts of your shoulder and move your arm into different positions. In some cases, an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI is used to further diagnose the severity of the tear. Treatment can range from resting, icing, and physical therapy to surgery. You may have a rotator tear if you’re experiencing what is described as a dull ache deep in the shoulder, a disturbance in sleep, it’s difficult to comb your hair or reach behind your back and any arm weakness. This injury can be caused by progressive degeneration and wear and tear, or a substantial injury to the shoulder. Age, family history and construction jobs can be risk factors.


ROTATOR CUFF TEAR NEW TECHNOLOGY: Duke University has begun to offer a new surgical technique called ‘superior capsule reconstruction’ to repair damaged rotator cuffs. This technique inserts a human tissue graft, attaching one end to the upper-arm bone and the other to the shoulder socket. This will not replace your rotator cuff tendon but will perform the same function which is keeping the ball of the arm bone centered in your shoulder socket and help raise your arm. This surgery can be performed arthroscopically by inserting a camera and surgical instruments through small incisions that are about the width of a finger. The procedure is done under regional anesthesia and combined with sedation. Most patients go home the same day after surgery.




If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Nikhil Verma, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon

Read the entire Q&A