Procedure May Help Older Athletes Get Back in the Game

Rotator cuff injury treatment with arthroscopic procedure may help older athletes return to sports

It can be easy to assume that aging means the end of exercise — especially when an injury is involved. But one surgery may help some older athletes get back in the game.

A new study found that a procedure to treat rotator cuff injures may help older athletes return to their sport.

"The surgery we performed appears to be highly effective in reducing pain, improving function and returning our older athletes back to the activities they love," said study author Peter J. Millett, MD, of the Steadman Clinic in Vail, CO, in a press release.

Orthopedic surgeon Cameron T. Atkinson, MD, of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Irving, TX, told dailyRx News that "The notion that you have to be sedentary as you age is gone. It is now very much the opposite — to live a longer, better life, we are now encouraged to stay active as long as we can."

This study looked at 44 active adults age 70 or older. These patients, who had an average age of 73, were all recreational athletes who sustained an injury to the rotator cuff (the muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder).

These athletes all underwent an arthroscopic procedure to treat their injuries. This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses small incisions and a small camera to repair the area.

After following these patients for an average of 3.6 years, Dr. Millett and team found improvements in both pain reduction and the ability to function, play recreational sports and sleep. Furthermore, 77 percent of the athletes were able to resume their sport at a level of intensity similar to the one they enjoyed prior to becoming injured.

Dr. Atkinson, who was not involved with the current study, said that adults participating in sports as they age have become more common.

"At least 20 percent of my practice is now 45-years-old or older adults being active with their children, in sports leagues or otherwise and with sports injuries," Dr. Atkinson said. "A commitment to good nutrition along with that desire to stay fit is the most common trait I see across my 50, 60, and 70 year old patients that are still very active. Bad fuel is not good for the engine."

This study was presented July 11 at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) annual meeting. Studies presented at conferences are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No conflicts of interest or funding sources were disclosed.