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Can Low-intensity Pulsed Ultrasound Improve Rotator Cuff Healing?

LIPUS after a rotator cuff injury

From Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field

Blog Written by: Stephen Thomas

Reviewed by: Kyle Harris

Rotator Cuff Injury & Possible Treatment

Rotator cuff tears occur frequently and have a high rate of re-tears. It has been very difficult to achieve effective rotator cuff healing, not to mention re-establish the native tendon-bone interface following a cuff repair. There have been attempts at optimizing the rehabilitation following cuff repair to improve success. However, no study has examined the application of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) following cuff repair. Therefore, the objective of this study was to examine the effects of LIPUS on the early phases of tendon-bone healing in a sheep model.

Eight sheep underwent detachment and immediate reattach of the infraspinatus tendon. The infraspinatus tendon in sheep is similar to the supraspinatus in humans. Half (n = 4) of the animals were given LIPUS and the other half (n = 4) did not receive any sort of treatment. The LIPUS treatment started the day following surgery and was administered 5 days a week for a duration of 20 minutes per day. The LIPUS was delivered at 30 mW/cm2 in 200-µs bursts of sine waves at a frequency of 1.5MHz and a 0.2 duty cycle during each treatment. Twenty-eight days post-surgery, micro-CT, histology and immunohistochemistry procedures were performed on all animals.

Test Results of LIPUS

They found increased bone mineral density at the rotator cuff footprint in the LIPUS group compared to the control group. They also found that the LIPUS group had an improved histological appearance compared to the control group. They observed thicker regions of woven bone and increased osteoblast activity. There were also more established Sharpey’s fibers in the transition region of tendon to bone.

The immunohistochemistry results found an increased amount of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), RUNX2 and Smad4 in the LIPUS group. Each of these proteins has been associated with improved bone healing. This is an interesting study that examines the use of LIPUS to improve rotator cuff tendon to bone healing following surgical repair. LIPUS is a modality that has been seen frequently in sports medicine. It has seemed to be most effective treating bone fractures, but has been used to treat soft tissue injuries as well.

The rotator cuff insertion site is a unique location that incorporates soft tissue and bone. These unique characteristics may optimize both soft tissue and bone effects of the LIPUS to improve rotator cuff healing. In addition, there are several studies demonstrating signs of degeneration in both the torn tendon and the bone of the rotator cuff footprint in chronically torn rotator cuff tendons. This further suggests that LIPUS may have the potential to improve healing by increasing cell proliferation of both the bone and tendon.

Problems with the Test

Although it wasn’t examined in this study, the use of LIPUS preoperatively may be warranted in chronically torn tendons that undergo severe degeneration and have a poor prognosis. However, due to the small sample size and the short time point of 28 days following surgery, there is clearly more research that needs to be done to fully understand the mechanisms through which LIPUS leads to improved rotator cuff healing.

Have you used LIPUS following rotator cuff repair? Have you had success?

To learn more about the latest research on healing and rehabilitation of rotator cuff tears look for our UQ/LQ course in a city near you!


The Effects of Low-Intensity Pulsed Ultrasound on Tendon-Bone Healing in a Transosseous-Equivalent Sheep Rotator Cuff Model; Lovric V., Ledger M., Goldberg J., Harper W., Bertollo N., Pelletier MH., Oliver RA., Yu Y., Walsh WR.; Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2012 Mar 31.