When an athlete gets injured, there’s a typical protocol. The usual treatments include physical therapy and sometimes surgery. These long standing treatments have been effective, but they take the athlete out of their game for quite some time. Lately, a new therapy has surfaced and athletes and doctors alike are loving the results. Plasma rich platelet and stem cell therapies are new treatments that are proving their worth and looking to become the new “go-to” therapy for injured athletes.
Plasma rich platelet (PRP) and stem cell therapies are administered by taking blood from the injured patient, placing the vial in a centrifuge to separate the components, and then injecting the plasma or stem cells back into the patient at the injury site. The healing elements of the PRP go to work directly on the injury and are claimed to speed the healing process. Stem cells work similarly.
In a nutshell, the patient is being treated with their own blood for expedited recovery.
While this type of treatment seems foreign and honestly, a bit odd, it is rapidly gaining praise and popularity. Big name pros like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hines Ward and golf legend Tiger Woods have used the therapy and have seen positive results.
While the pros are receiving this cutting edge therapy, what about the average Joe? Is this a treatment that is being used in everyday offices or is it still limited to the elite? Is it effective or is it just another glitzy Hollywood scam? Dr. Howard J. Luks, the Chief of Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy at University Orthopedics, PC in Hawthorne, NY, was able to shed some light on PRP and stem cell therapy.
Dr. Luks has been using the therapy in his clinics and is seeing good outcomes. He typically treats common sports ailments such as tendinitis, ligament strains, tennis elbow, and rotator cuff injuries with the treatments.
“Does it work 100% of the time? No, but is has worked 85% of the time,” said Luks.
His success rate with the therapies is very high and proof as to why his clinic believes in it. He explained that the PRP and stem cell treatment has created an alternative to treatments such as steroid injections.
“Steroids just mask the patients pain and are useful for treating inflammation, steroids do not heal ligament tears, or other tendon or arthritic disorders. In those circumstances it masks the pain and may worsen certain conditions.”
Dr. Luks also took time to explain why the stem cell component is an effective healing agent. While the PRP can heal an injury, stem cells can actually treat a degenerative tendonopathy condition. In these degenerative conditions, tendons and cells are deteriorating and the stem cells can actually cause regeneration, making the stem cell therapy more effective than the PRP alone.
While Dr. Luks is using this therapy, he explained why it is still not widespread.
“Due to the recent nature of its use in clinical practice and the relatively small amount of documented research and literature available on the topic, many insurance companies are not covering these therapies.”
Dr. Luks believes that the treatments will be mainstream once the research and insurance companies catch up. Dr. Luks expects PRP and stem cell therapy to be mainstream in less that 5 years.
Effective treatments for athletic injuries that are quick and can ward off surgery are nearly unheard of today. With platelet rich plasma and stem cell therapy moving to the forefront of sports medicine, a whole new game is on the horizon.