Recovering from cartilage, tendon, or a muscle injury is normally remedied by rest, physiotherapy, and sometimes surgery.
For athletes, especially those playing at the elite level, recovery time is a factor. Pro athletes are paid to perform, and missing time with injury equates to a bad return on the team owner’s investment.
Recuperating from an injury quickly isn’t as crucial for amateur athletes or weekend warriors, but no one likes to sit on the sidelines in pain all the same.
That’s why alternative paths to recovery and rehabilitation are gaining momentum in the athletic world, particularly platelet rich plasma injections (PRP therapy) and stem cell therapy.
The practice of PRP therapy and similar regenerative medicine was banned in pro sports by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in fear of performance-enhancing effects. That ban was lifted in 2011 when no evidence was found, resulting in more and more athletes taking advantage of their therapeutic effects.
Tiger Woods infamously turned to PRP therapy in 2008-09 while attempting to come back from a blown-out ACL and torn Achilles. Since then, a number of high-profile athletes are starting to adopt these treatments, including now-retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, current NBA All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, MLB slugger Alex Rodriguez, and Chelsea skipper John Terry.
With big names advocating the use of PRP therapy or stem cell therapy, there may be a trickle down effect to their peers, and further down to amateur athletes from there.
So which regenerative medicine has potential to become popular for athletes in the future?
Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP Therapy)
Platelet rich plasma therapy is like recycling your own blood to heal targeted areas of pain or injury. A sample of blood is taken from the patient, from the arm for example, and is spun in a centrifuge. The tissue-repairing platelets are then extracted from the blood, and re-injected into injury areas such as tendons or cartilage.
Athletes with knee injuries or Achilles tears in particular are turning to PRP therapy. Knee problems can be chronic, and Achilles injuries take a long time to recover from, meaning speedy recuperation is often sought.
How effective can they be? After Woods’ PRP injections in ’08, he went on to dominate the ’09 season in one of the best years of his career. He won six tourneys, was runner-up in three others, and had a top-10 finish in all but three events he participated in.
He was the world’s best golfer at the time, but there’s no way he could come back from an Achilles injury that fast and compete at the highest level without PRP therapy. Avoiding surgery, crushing his peers, and collecting a ton of accolades speaks to the effectiveness of PRP therapy for athletes, and why athletes have been more receptive to the therapy ever since. Of all regenerative medicine injections on the rise, PRP treatments has the chance to become very popular and widely-used.
Stem Cell Therapy
If you enjoyed the extended careers of Kobe Bryant and two-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning, thank stem cell therapy. The two faces of their sport weren’t shy in telling people they used stem cell treatment to heal injured joints and repair damaged tissues.
Stem cells have the unique ability to differentiate into different cell types in the body anything from muscle, tendon, or ligament cells. In a chronically injured area, there’s a lack of stem cells being distributed to these areas, which stem cell therapy provides, ultimately expediting healing time.
Peyton Manning aside, stem cell therapy has the potential and it’s already happening to rise in football particularly, thanks to the myriad of injuries a player can face in the full-body, full-contact sport. Other athletes have experimented with this therapy, including former world #1 tennis player Rafael Nadal.
With the adoption and acceptance of PRP therapy and stem cell therapy by high-performance athletes across multiple sports, there’s a good chance you’ll hear about regenerative medicine more often in the news when your favourite athlete is trying to come back from injury.
Instead of missing months of a season with tedious rehab or surgery, a stem cell or PRP injection can have athletes back doing what they love faster welcome news for worried team owners, teammates, and fans.
You don’t need to be an elite athlete to take advantage of PRP therapy or stem cell therapy if you’re suffering from chronic pain or injury.
Author: DR. DAVID SIMON
Dr. David Simon experienced Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Doctor in Kanata Ontario.
Mailing Address: 1108-A Klondike Road, Kanata, ON, K1K 0G1