In recent years, stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma injections have gained traction in the medical world, making these methods viable treatment alternatives for certain injuries and diseases. Patients with two medical conditions in particular can greatly benefit from these therapies: acute injuries – which usually refers to damage to muscles or tendons – and arthritis. Local sports medicine and joint-care facility Winning Health offers both treatments to qualifying patients.
Winning Health’s Dr. Andrew McMarlin, board-certified in orthopedics and nonsurgical sports medicine, puts these methods to work, helping patients understand how they can benefit from such treatments and whether these options are right for them.
“Stem cell therapy is a broad category of using human cells that haven’t yet differentiated into bone, muscle or cartilage and putting them in an area that needs help recovering from an injury,” he explained. “So far, it has been used successfully in the heart, joints and for every type of skeletal, muscle and tendon injury.”
PRP is a different type of treatment that uses platelets from a patient’s blood to stimulate healing and growth of muscles, blood vessels, bones and cartilage. It’s believed that this may be a more successful way to treat both minor physical injuries and arthritis. Dr. McMarlin affirmed this statement, claiming that “current scientific research has shown that this method is better for improving joint pain than steroids and cartilage gel injections.”
While there are more than 100 types of arthritis, Dr. McMarlin said the most common is osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease. This type of arthritis develops over time as the cartilage between bones wears down, causing them to rub against each other, which results in pain and stiffness.
“Every type of osteoarthritis patient can experience pain relief from these therapies,” said Dr. McMarlin. “But it is most beneficial if you start with either PRP or stem cells earlier in the disease process to get the best results.”
Similarly, people who suffer an acute injury such as a torn tendon or muscle can also benefit from these healing techniques as the cells or platelets help restore damaged tissue.
According to Dr. McMarlin, it’s common for arthritis patients to continue to experience pain after receiving steroid or cartilage gel injections, often because the patient was given a “blind injection” – an ultrasound was not used to guide the needle to the proper location. As a result, in many cases, the treatment is practically useless.
“The majority of these blind injections don’t actually go into the joint space,” said Dr. McMarlin. “This is why I use ultrasound guidance with all joint injections to make sure that someone is getting the appropriate therapy in the correct location.”
As a nonsurgical physician, Dr. McMarlin’s job is to thoroughly evaluate each patient’s injury and determine the proper diagnosis, which sometimes can mean stem cell therapy or PRP.
“Generally, a patient’s treatment plan starts out minimally invasive and progresses to other therapies as needed, with surgery considered as the last resort,” he said.
Patients experiencing joint pain or who are recovering from an injury should request a physical assessment to determine whether these treatment methods could benefit them.