All shoulder Topics

What is Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears?

The balloon implant for rotator cuff tears (or subacromial balloon arthroplasty) is a minimally invasive surgical procedure during which a biodegradable balloon is placed into the shoulder to help treat severe rotator cuff tears that cannot be repaired (massive irreparable rotator cuff tears or MIRCTs).

Key statistics about Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears

  • Approximately 4.5 million patient visits that are associated with shoulder pain occur annually in the United States[1]
  • 13% of individuals over the age of 50 experience rotator cuff tears[2]
  • 50% of individuals over the age of 80 experience rotator cuff tears[2]
  • Approximately 10-40% of rotator cuff tears are classified as massive tears[3]
  • 98% of patients who undergo the balloon implant to treat rotator cuff tears do not experience complications[4]

Expert Insights

Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears - Jason Klein, MD

Shoulder Anatomy

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint formed by three bones: the humerus, the scapula, and the clavicle. The acromion is a bony process on the upper outer edge of the scapula. The subacromial space is located between the acromion and the head of the humerus.

3D rendering of the shoulder with colorized regions highlighting its anatomy

The rotator cuff is made up of a group of four tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles are the subscapularis, the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, and the teres minor, and together they work to stabilize the joint and move the arm.

Two 3D renderings of the shoulder showing its anterior and posterior views along with labels pointing out the supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and teres minor

Why is Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears performed?

Rotator cuff tears occur when at least one of the cuff tendons is torn, fully or partially detaching the muscle from the humerus. A fully torn rotator cuff often requires surgical repair (fully torn rotator cuff repair) to reattach the muscle to the humerus, alleviating pain and restoring shoulder function.

In some cases, massive irreparable rotator cuff tears occur, meaning that the rotator cuff tear is so severe that it cannot be repaired. In these cases, a balloon implant may be recommended to help treat the tear. The balloon is placed into the subacromial space in order to decrease friction between the acromion and humerus during movement, alleviating pain and restoring joint function.

The balloon is biodegradable and is absorbed by the body in approximately one year.

Who needs Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears?

Rotator cuff tears are most commonly the result of repetitive movement from participation in throwing sports and weight lifting, or by traumatic injury such as a fall.

Most patients who undergo balloon implant surgery suffer from massive irreparable rotator cuff tears. Certain individuals may not be suitable candidates for rotator cuff repair surgery due to age or degenerative conditions, and the balloon implant procedure may be recommended.

How is Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears performed?

The balloon implant for rotator cuff tear procedure typically is performed arthroscopically.

  • The surgeon will make small incisions around the shoulder joint and the arthroscope will be inserted into one of the incisions.
  • Saline solution is pumped into the joint to expand it and improve visualization.
  • Images from the arthroscope are sent to a video monitor where the surgeon can see inside the joint.
  • Any damaged bone or tissue is removed.
  • The rotator cuff tear is repaired to the extent possible.
  • The balloon is placed into the subacromial space and inflated with saline solution.
  • Finally, the saline solution around the joint is drained, instruments are removed, and the incisions are closed using sutures.

What are the risks of Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears?

Potential risks from fully torn rotator cuff repair may include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Migration of the balloon implant

How long does it take to recover from Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears?

  • 24 hours after surgery
    Most patients are able to return home the same day as their procedure, and pain medication may be prescribed. A sling will be provided, but it is important that prescribed exercises are followed in order to prevent the development of any weakness or stiffness. The surgeon and physical therapist will establish a physical therapy routine.
  • 2 weeks after surgery
    Any non-dissolvable sutures are removed and bruising and swelling begin to subside.
  • 4-6 weeks after surgery
    Most patients are able to resume most daily activity.
  • 4-6 months after surgery
    Most patients are fully recovered from the balloon implant procedure.

What are the results of Balloon Implant for Rotator Cuff Tears?

The balloon implant for rotator cuff tears is a safe and effective procedure performed to alleviate pain and restore shoulder function to patients with MIRCTs. The balloon implant procedure is minimally invasive and patients typically experience less post-operative pain and a fast recovery time compared to traditional surgery.

Mather III, R.C., Koening, L., Acevedo, D., Dall, T.M., Gallo, P., Romeo, A., Tongue, J., & Williams Jr., G. (2013). The Societal and Economic Value of Rotator Cuff Repair. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 95(22), 1993-2000.
Fermont, A.J.M., Wolterbeek, N., Wessel, R.N., Baevens, J., & de Bie, R.A. (2014). Prognostic Factors for Successful Recovery After Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 44(3), 153-163.
Wright, M.A., Abboud, J.A., & Murthi, A.M. (2020). Subacromial Balloon Spacer Implantation. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 12(5), 584-591.
Stewart, R.K., Kaplin, L., Parada, S A., Graves, B.R., Verma, N.N., & Waterman, B.R. (2019). Outcomes of Subacromial Balloon Spacer Implantation for Massive and Irreparable Rotator Cuff Tears: A Systematic Review. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 7(10), 2325967119875717.
Last edited on February 7th, 2024 5:43 pm