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New Therapies Show Promising Results for Sports Injuries

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By Dr. Daniel Nicholson

Orthobiologics is a field of musculoskeletal care that aims to use your body’s natural healing response to treat both acute and chronic conditions and injuries. These therapeutic options can be used to treat conditions without surgery or as an adjunct to surgical intervention.

For recreational tennis players, bursitis and tendinitis in the elbow (tennis elbow) are common conditions that cause pain and swelling around muscles and bones. However, bursitis and tendinitis also occur in the shoulder, wrist, hip, knee and ankle.  Orthobiologic therapies have been shown to be particularly effective for these types of conditions, as well as for cartilage injuries, arthritis, rotator cuff and ligament tears.

What is PRP? Available orthobiologic therapies include platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy. Platelet rich plasma therapy involves a simple blood draw. The blood is then placed in a centrifuge that spins and separates the blood into layers. This process concentrates the platelets and growth factors, both of which play a central role in the healing process, into a specific layer, which is then extracted and used to activate the body’s natural healing response. This is most commonly performed by injecting the PRP into the site of damaged tissue.

Conditions That Respond Well to PRP and Stem Cell Therapy

Tennis Elbow – Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) is an injury to the tendon in the outer elbow. An estimated 50 percent of all tennis players will suffer from tennis elbow at some point. Frequent hand gripping and wrist turning aggravates the condition. For tennis elbow, PRP therapy has been shown to improve healing when compared to the more common treatment of steroid injections and oral anti-inflammatory medications.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis – Aching shoulders are among the most common overuse tennis injuries. Rotator cuff tendinitis causes shoulder pain at the top of the shoulder and the upper arm. The problem lies in the construction of the joint and how a tennis ball is served. The forces generated during a serve can blast through the rotator cuff, located at the back of the shoulder. Repeated motion of the arms can damage and wear down the tendons, muscles and bone.

Speed Healing Following ACL Surgery – Ligament injuries to the knee are very common in sports, such as tennis, that require stopping and starting or quickly changing directions. These extreme forces on the knee can result in torn ligaments. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) are the most often injured. While PRP therapy has not yet proven sufficient in lieu of surgery, it may be very helpful following surgery. A complete return from an ACL reconstruction surgery typically takes between five and seven months. Numerous research studies indicate an improved rate and speed of healing with the addition of PRP or stem cells to common orthopedic surgical procedures.

How Stem Cells Enhance Natural Healing – Stem cell therapy has generated a great deal of excitement within the orthopedic community. This treatment option is able to enhance the body’s natural healing response, as well as provide cells that can directly take part in healing diseased and damaged tissue. Stem cells are naturally occurring cells that have the ability to become a variety of tissues including cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon or ligament. Sources for stem cells include bone marrow, adipose tissue and donor stem cells known as allograft.

Getting the Results You Want – Orthobiologics is one of the most studied fields of musculoskeletal care. It has been shown to have superior results to more standard treatment options when used to treat certain musculoskeletal conditions. While all of the potential uses of these treatment options have yet to be discovered, orthobiologics provide treatment options that are often less invasive and superior to more traditional treatment modalities.

If you’re looking to get back into the game sooner and are hoping for a treatment that is less invasive and effective, you may want to consider orthobiologics, PRP and stem cell therapy.

Dr. Daniel Nicholson

Dr. Daniel Nicholson is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine. He specializes in arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder, knee, hip and elbow. Nicholson completed his residency at Northwestern University, followed by a fellowship at Baylor University. Nicholson served as a member of the medical staff with Houston professional sports teams, including the Texans, Astros, Rockets and Dynamos. He has also served as team physician for high schools in the Atlanta area.