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Innovation: Rotator Cuff Surgery Just Got Easier

How one Denver surgeon is transforming the ways we treat torn tendons.

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Rotator cuff tears can be career-ending for athletes, but they’re not exactly fun for the rest of us either. The painful problem involves the separation of tendons from the shoulder joint, and recovering from the intense surgery is almost as painful as the injury itself. Dr. Ted Schlegel, an orthopedic surgeon and former team physician for the Broncos and Rockies, searched for less-invasive techniques for more than 20 years. In 2014, he found his answer: a collagen-based implant that induces tendon growth. (Imagine patching fraying denim in your jeans and, over time, the patch growing to match the material around it.) Schlegel was the first doctor to perform the procedure in the United States, and he’s seen patients’ recovery times shrink from six months to about 12 weeks. He recommends the technique for partial tears (when some tendon is still attached to the bone) but is working to expand the technology so it can be used for broader applications—like (we hope) reviving the Rockies’ bullpen.

To get a better idea of the process, watch the video animation below.

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