Stem Cell Therapy Breaks Baseball’s Tommy John Epidemic
For more than 50 years baseball players in both small and big leagues regularly have received stem cell therapy to reverse damage and injuries sustained while playing the game, though it’s rarely discussed or told in the open.
Then in 2016 the Los Angeles Angels broke the unspoken protocol by announcing that their players, notably Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney, would be getting stem cell treatment for their torn UCLs, or ulnar collateral ligaments.
Before stem cells became an option, baseball players had to take a surgical procedure called the Tommy John surgery to have their damaged or torn UCL fixed. It was named in honor of the pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who made a miraculous comeback and went on to play for various teams in the course of 14 years.
The TJ surgery replaces the torn tissue with a tendon from the patient or a donor. The procedure became more common among players as time went by, from 28 between 1995 to 2005 to 84 between 2006 to 2015.
In 2016, the numbers declined from 127 to just 90 due to the fact that stem cell therapy became a viable option.
Stem cells have a unique healing characteristic as they can change into just about any cell type the body needs during the time. Stem cells can either be adult or embryonic, with adult cells collected from adult patients and embryonic coming from early stage embryos.
Today, researchers are working with stem cells on a number of applications that range from infertility and autism to vision impairment and Alzheimer’s.
Bartolo Colon was the first baseball player to undergo stem cell therapy for his UCL. In 2010, Colon tried the treatment due to a failing career and went back stronger than ever. Later, reporters interviewed Colon’s orthopedic surgeon Joseph Purita regarding the revolutionary procedure.
Orthopedic Surgeon at NY Hospital and New York Mets assistant team physician Joshua Dines, confirms that there are indeed professionals that can do the therapy. Those who take the Tommy John surgery are expected to miss 18 months or so, thus facilitating the need for a procedure that can offer a faster recovery time.
Evidence and studies point to the fact that platelet rich plasma injections work great against UCL injuries. PRPs are collected from the player and reintroduced at the injured site. These injections are considered precursors to encourage natural healing of the tissues.
Adult stem cells may be used to greater effect and can stave off the need to have a TJ surgery. The drop in TJs are largely attributed to the proliferation of stem cell therapies in the league. Dr. Purita is optimistic that stem cell treatment can allow for a full recovery even with a complete UCL tear.
More importantly, clinics who offer stem cell treatment are fully-registered medical research centers and have licensed orthopedic surgeons. The FDA allows stem cell injections as long as it’s collected from the patient and isn’t genetically modified.
The reason why players weren’t going public with the treatment was that they were not sure of how it would be perceived. But Purita says the landscape is changing, and that more and more people are gravitating towards stem cells as an acceptable or even better form of treatment.
Emory University biologics and sports medicine expert Amadeus Mason, also holds the same idea that stem-cell therapy will reach the inflection point soon. Mason thinks that the procedure is still relatively new and that doctors will have to learn it in order to achieve similar results.
The MLB will be facing an interesting side effect after the stem cell revelation. Purita mentioned that there were some players who have gained performance improvements after taking the therapy. Major League Baseball has not laid down the rules for stem cell therapy in regards to being performance enhancers. In the same vein, a low pitch prospect may decide to get stem cell therapy after experiencing elbow pain and get extra speed on his fastball.
Still, the prospect of saving young arms from being lost to torn UCLs and subsequent Tommy John surgeries is attractive not just for the league but for future players as well. Once the MLB makes its decision, the rest of the baseball industry is sure to follow.
To your health,
The Healing Miracle Team
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