Stem Cells Therapy for Sports Injuries: Does it Work?

February 8, 2022

Are you currently being told by doctors that the only way the pain will go is if you have surgery? That can be a frightening decision especially when you know that surgery never improves things completely. There’s always that lingering something even if there is also a major improvement. Whether you’re an athlete or not though, many of us experience some form of physical injury while playing sports during our lives. If that’s your case, you’ll be happy to know that there might be another option. These days, cell therapy is increasingly used to treat sports injuries. The question though is how effective this treatment really is.

Potential Benefits of Cell Therapy for Sport Injuries 

Most might think of cell or gene therapy as mainly applicable for working with cancer cells and treating terminal patients with bone marrow transplants or other intrusive treatments. However, today, it’s clear that there’s a strong demand for treatment with roughly 3% of Americans experiencing sports injuries on average every year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Everyone has to decide for themselves what treatment they want to undergo but these benefits might help you: 

  • Regenerative healing
  • Pain relief
  • Alternative to surgery 

Regenerative Healing

Whilst there are different types of cells, the idea behind stem cell therapy is to encourage your body to heal by regrowing what it needs such as muscle or nerve cells. This type of regenerative medicine happens because stem cells essentially originate the relevant specialist cell needed for recovery. These stem cell types could either be embryonic stem cells, adult or induced pluripotent stem cells. Overall, this terminology refers to where the stem cells come from and how multi-functional they can be. 

Cellular therapies for sports injuries use what is known as mesenchymal stem cells. These cell types are in the group of adult cells that come from fat, bone marrow, and even donated umbilical cords. Naturally, such stem cells tend to be sourced from someone’s own fat cells for sports injuries. No one wants the other option of using bone marrow. After all, accessing fat cells is less intrusive and it’s more ethical than using embryonic stem cells.

Moreover, everyone has fat cells regardless of how skinny they are and it’s relatively painless and easy to access them, often from the thigh, with a syringe. Finally, using one’s own cells for stem cell therapy increases the chances of success because the body is more likely to accept its own cells for regenerative healing.

Pain Relief

Cell therapy works because the stem cells target inflamed areas within the body to encourage regrowth whilst supporting the overall immune system. As a consequence, the pain reduces as the inflammation goes down. One of the biggest advantages is that the pain relief is permanent. This is in contrast to when patients use cortisol, for instance. Not only can cortisol cause other issues if overused but it’s also only a temporary relief.

Alternative to Surgery 

Surgery isn’t just physically draining. It also has a huge mental impact depending on how long recovery and post-surgery rehabilitation takes. Some patients take months before they can finally walk without a cane or wheelchair. 

Whilst many doctors claim the miracles of surgery, it can be reassuring to know that cell therapy is noninvasive. Essentially, the process involves injecting stem cells into the relevant area which clearly pales in comparison to the downsides of surgery. 

Challenges of Cell Therapy for Sport Injuries 

Medical science is far from absolute. Research and clinical development have come a long way but there’s still room for improvement. Naturally, any treatment that is at the forefront of biomedical research comes with risk. Then again, any medical intervention comes with some risk, however small it might be. That’s why every patient has to make their own decision when it comes to their health. It’s therefore important to understand the risks, as follows: 

  • Few clinical trials
  • Sources of stem cells 
  • Limitations for complex injuries 

Few Clinical Trials

The first thing to note is that funding and ethical issues have previously made it difficult to conduct any stem cell clinical trial. However, now that the technology has been developed to source stem cells in other places, rather than embryos, clinical trials are increasing in numbers. Nevertheless, there are currently no FDA-approved cell therapy treatments for sports injuries. 

Like everything in life, it’s about balancing the pros and cons of your particular case. Just because something isn’t FDA approved, doesn’t make it bad. In this case, regulators just haven’t seen a high enough volume of clinical trials. Despite that, there are clinics conducting cell therapies for sports injuries. Moreover, the FDA has approved some cell therapy for certain blood disorders so it’s really only a matter of time. 

If you want more reassurance though, you can also ask your doctor if a particular cell therapy has an Investigation New Drug Application Number with the FDA. After all, this sector is now moving fast. 

Sources of Stem Cells 

Cell therapy works best when stem cells come from the patient’s own body. That’s because the body is more likely to recognize and collaborate with its own cells rather than foreign ones. Nonetheless, this assumes that the patient is a healthy adult. Furthermore, the chances of success reduce with age so doctors sometimes have to search for other sources of stem cells. 

Limitations for Complex Injuries 

Highly complex injuries are still a challenge for cell therapy. A complex web of injuries covering ligaments, bones, and the nervous system could simply be too much for stem cells. Regardless, a patient can still start with cell therapy and move onto surgery if they don’t see any results. The good news is that stem cells don’t negatively impact surgery and in fact, can work well together. 

Final Thoughts on Cell Therapy for Sport Injuries 

Facing disability because of a sports injury is devastating. That’s why patients need to consider all options that don’t just include surgery. Perhaps even a combination of physiotherapy and cell therapy could be the answer? Whatever the solution, everyone has to decide for themselves. The good news though is that cell therapy is a very valid option that is both noninvasive and is already proving successful for sports injuries. Whether it works will depend on you and your specific case but ask the doctors and investigate for yourself. You might finally discover the right solution.

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