Stem cell therapy has been generating a lot of buzz in the field of sports medicine. According to research studies, the number of Tommy John surgeries (elbow ligament graft surgery), which are practically a rite of passage among professional baseball pitchers has fallen dramatically in 2016. This fact coincides with the increasing number of athletes turning to stem cell therapy, a cutting-edge technology so advanced that it does not involve any cutting!
Often a ligament, tendon, or cartilage injury can cut short a promising sports career. Opting to go under the knife for surgical repair may result in a long period away from the game, making it very difficult for an athlete to return to a high level of play.
The unique feature of stem cells is that they are “unspecialized” and can transform into specialized cells to replace damaged tissue. This feature has potentially limitless applications. Most orthopedic stem cell research involves the use of adult mesenchymal stem cells which can differentiate into muscle, bone, ligaments, tendons, etc. Autologous stem cell therapy involves the extraction of the patient’s own stem cells that are present in bone marrow, fat, or other areas and reintroducing them at the site of injury to boost the body’s natural healing process. The benefits of autologous stem cell therapy include:
- Avoiding risks of surgery including the anesthetic risks, complications with healing of surgical incisions, and possible damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
- No risk of communicable diseases or rejection by the immune system as the stem cells are derived from the patient’s body.
- Minimizing the recovery time as compared to surgery, which is very important for professional players as well as weekend warriors.
Clearly, stem cell therapy is changing the game in sports medicine. It may not be long before every sports team has a stem-cell therapy consultant to save or extend the careers of their players.