Rotator cuff tears are common and people over the age of 50 have a 25% chance of having a tear. Sports people who make repetitive throws like pitchers, cricketers and tennis players are also at risk. Body builders and in particular power lifters during a bench press also need to pay heed to avoid this injury. The area of injury involves four muscles but the infraspinatous and supraspinatous are most commonly injured. Falling over can dislocate and also injure the shoulder and cause a tear.
The most common cause of rotator cuff pain though, is due to the degeneration of the tendon. Pain is at its worst when lifting the arm over the head and the pain can be most severe at night.
To date, there has not been a research study demonstrating how acupuncture can help repair a partial or completely torn rotator cuff. But statistical analysis from researchers has shown that partial tears can get better completely of their own accord without any treatment of any kind and hence may not have required surgery in the first place. In fact, Howard J Luks, Chief of Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy in New York, says that many rotator cuff tears should never have been operated on as they did not actually require surgery.
A well-known US based sports medicine physician, Jim Andrews, says “We don’t even know why some rotator cuff tears have severe pain and others don’t”
The medical procedure known as acromioplasty is still used commonly in New Zealand but Professor Frederick A Matsen of UW Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, says that this procedure should be questioned.
Another common treatment used for rotator cuff tears in New Zealand is multiple injections of steroids. This procedure may lessen the discomfort of the problem in the short term but the end result is that it actually weakens the tendon tissue. “This is exactly what we don’t want” says Mr Mark Crain, a well-known acupuncturist from Brisbane. “Ironically, the healthcare systems in Australia and New Zealand pay for the injections which actually weaken the tendon hindering healing and recovery of the injury and then Medicare and ACC pay out more money for surgery“.
The rate of surgery for rotator cuff tears in China is much lower than in New Zealand because in China the problem is treated with acupuncture, moxibustion and external die da Chinese herbs. Past research has shown that acupuncture can help with frozen shoulder and Shoulder-Hand Syndrome as well as many other sports injuries. It is only a matter of time before one of the Australian universities obtains some funding for research to demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating rotator cuff tears.
Research has also confirmed that smokers have an increased risk of a rotator cuff tear and that smokers do not recover as well from the injury. Mr Mark Crain, says this does not surprise him. He said “According to Chinese medical theory, smoking damages the yin fluids of the whole body and not just the lungs. Tendons by their anatomical nature are a dry type of tissue because of less than normal blood supply, so smoking only exacerbates this.”
There are also many Chinese herbs and formulations that can be used to treat rotator cuff tears. One herb that is sometimes used as part of prescription is Yu Zhu. It has the traditional function of moistening and lubricating the tendons. Mark Crain said “One way to look at the way this herb can help is that it is like giving a grease and oil change to the tendons. Modern research has now shown that Yu Zhu can improve cartilage“.
Rotator cuff tears are covered for acupuncture by ACC.