Louis A. Cona M.D.
A brief description of how stem cell therapy may be able to help athletes.
Stem cells have the unique ability to become any type of cell that is required by the body in a process called differentiation. Additionally, they have the natural ability to find areas of inflamed or damaged tissues and replace the cells with new ones. This is done non-invasively, without the need for surgeries or lengthy recovery times.
Although treatment can be used to heal a severe injury, stem cell therapy can also be used to continuously repair the body before serious injury occurs, prolonging the productive period for athletes and those with active lifestyles alike. These characteristics of stem cell therapies have caused many to consider them the new future of sports medicine.
Those with active lifestyles know that physical activity causes stress on the body. The body responds by repairing itself and gaining strength over time. However, as we age, the body's ability to repair itself diminishes, and activity can sometimes lead to injuries that cannot be overcome naturally. Until recent years, athletes could only prevent injury through efficient training. They would strengthen the body to be able to handle the stresses applied to it during games, races, or competitions. When the body did become injured, they would turn to surgery to repair the damage and deal with lengthy recovery and rehabilitation times. Sometimes, the injuries would be too much to return to their activity ever again, ending careers in the process.
With the advent of stem cell technology, more and more professional athletes have been turning to regenerative medicine as an alternative to heal their injuries. Notable examples being Peyton Manning's neck treatment before his last championship season, Bartolo Colon receiving treatment to continue pitching, and even Rafael Nadal using stem cells to treat his injured back. Athletes have been traveling around the world to receive treatment for years, but until recently, they had only done so after receiving a debilitating injury and as a last resort.
Today, many athletes and even sports organizations themselves are exploring uses for stem cells to prevent injury and prolong an athlete's career. They have begun harvesting and banking stem cells from players for use throughout the season. By creating a usable supply of a patient's stem cells, they can be grown and multiplied for use when needed. As the stress of the season wears down a player's body leading to potential injury, stem cells can be applied to find and repair any damage found.
By ensuring damaged tissue remains at a minimum, the likelihood of catastrophic injury goes down considerably. Additionally, no rules or regulations are barring the use of one's stem cells, as they are not performance-enhancing in any way. They are simply a means to prevent or treat injury and prolong an athlete's career.
If an injury, unfortunately, does occur, a player with banked cells can be quickly treated. Stem cells can regrow and repair damaged cartilage and tissue. This could potentially replace the need for knee replacements and other surgeries. Players could also return to action much faster than if using traditional healing methods. It could mean the difference in missing a season or valuable playing time. All of these factors lead to the conclusion that stem cell therapy could be a wise investment for athletes, or any person looking to stay healthy and active longer.
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