Having long been used as a beauty treatment, it is less well-known that botox can also make a difference when it comes to some medical conditions. Among these is arthritis, with the specific rotator cuff arthropathy being one of the types that can benefit from injections of the toxin.
Patients suffering from the condition are having botox injected into their shoulders, with some even saying they are pain-free after just one dose. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and four tendons surrounding the joint and performs an important function. It ensures the end of the humerus – a bone in the upper arm – stays within the shoulder socket.
Rotator cuff arthropathy is most commonly caused by age-related joint degeneration and affects up to one in four people. While is sometimes the result of an injury, this is rare and most sufferers are over the age of 50.
Tendons in the area often become weaker with age, as the blood supply is reduced. The shoulder blade then rubs against the tendons and tears in the tissue can mean that movement is impaired. Some elderly people find they can no longer raise their arm above their head because of rotator cuff arthropathy.
Highlighting just how prevalent the condition is, although in varying degrees, the University of Saarland Medical School in Germany did a study into it. It was discovered that 13 per cent of participants in their 50s had tears to the tissue, with this proportion rising to 51 percent for people in their 80s.
In the past, treatment options for arthropathy have included heat or ice packs, physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medication, with some cases being so severe they require surgery. Injecting botox into the muscles bypasses the need for such measures, as it relaxes the tissue by blocking the signals that tell the muscle to tighten.
Chris Smith, a consultant shoulder and elbow surgeon at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, treats patients with the condition using botox. It is then followed up with physiotherapy to help mobilise the shoulder and return it to its normal function.
He told the Daily Mail: “Rotator cuff tears are very common, especially after the age of 60. This is usually caused by wear and tear, and one theory is that evolution has not caught up with our change in use of the shoulders since the time we used to walk on all fours.
“We now use our arms for a number of tasks above head height, which puts the tendon at risk of damage. Although rotator cuff tears are common, not all patients have symptoms and it’s not clear why. One theory is that there is no pain when the tendon is completely torn because it is no longer attached to the bone.”
Mr Smith has so far provided eight rotator cuff arthropathy patients with botox and reported that the results have been encouraging. He hopes that the levels of pain relief can be replicated in other sufferers and avoid surgery. As the treatment is 50 times cheaper than a joint replacement, it could lead to savings for the NHS and a better quality of life for many elderly people.