Athletes and other physically active people now have a new health option: stem cell therapy for sports injuries.
Regardless of age, countless patients suffer from joint and muscle injuries due to professional or amateur sport activities, such as muscle tears, torn rotator cuff, tennis elbow, and knee injuries. Throughout life these types of injuries can occur and constitute a severe problem for functional disability and pain.
Conventional medicine for joint and muscular pain includes the use of pain-killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids or local medication. These treatments all come with side effects such as gastritis, gastrointestinal bleeding, renal or hematologic toxicity, yet do not solve the issue at hand.
Within the past decade, the use of stem cells for sports injuries has increased. According to the article, Emerging Applications of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine to Sports Injuries by Ajibade et al, “Cell-based therapies and regenerative medicine offer safe and potentially efficacious treatment for sports-related musculoskeletal injuries.
Why stem cells for sports injuries?
Due to many reasons, as we age, our body does not have the natural ability to repair itself. Following trauma or injury, the body immediately tries to repair itself, yet the majority of these sports injuries occur in cells or tissue that have very limited regenerative capabilities.
Cells from the immune system, biochemical substances and molecules are released into the blood stream to clean the area from the dead cells’ debris, bring other cells to repopulate the zone, regenerate the tissue and finally, make a scar.
Throughout this long process there would be pain, not only due to the lesion itself (i.e.: an ankle sprain), but also due to the inflammation that is launched to heal the damage.
Stem cell therapy may address all these concerns. First, stem cells have properties that can control inflammation (immunoregulation). Second, they release growth factors that can stimulate the production of other cells needed to repair the tissue (wound healing). Third, they can increase vasculature (blood flow) to the area, which increases healing. Finally, they may replace damaged cells. While stem cells are not analgesics, they may soothe joint and muscle pain by acting on the causes that provoke it. Therefore, a symptom, such as pain, is controlled by treating the cause directly.
How are they applied?
For sports injuries, stem cell procedures are usually performed under local anesthesia that may be complemented by a light sedation according to the patient’s condition. The majority of these procedures are ambulatory, which means that patients are usually discharged the same day. The stem cells are normally directly injected into the targeted areas. In cases such as osteoarthritis this may avoid the need for a joint replacement.