In what is seen as a bold move in Major League Baseball circles, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ace starting pitcher Garrett Richards chooses stem cell therapy. His announcement Monday that he is forgoing the traditional Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and undergoing stem cell therapy instead, is another indication that alternative treatment options for sports related injuries is becoming more popular.
The big hard throwing right-hander received stem-cell therapy treatment on his elbow on Monday and will take a six-week hiatus, and attempt to rehab his injured right elbow if all goes well.
“That’s promising news for the Halos, who desperately need their staff ace back in action. It’s not yet clear what kind of timetable might be hoped for, and there remains a good bit of uncertainty in how quickly Richards can return to the hill and work his way back to the majors”.
UCL’s and Major League Pitchers
Richards is the latest in a long line of promising young pitchers who have suffered the injury. As reported in this Grantland piece last year, baseball is suffering an epidemic of young promising pitchers who have suffered this injury.
From the Grantland article: “Tommy John surgeries are ripping through baseball at a faster pace than ever before. Twenty-five percent of active MLB pitchers have had the procedure, which reconstructs a pitcher’s torn ulnar collateral ligament, as have 15 percent of current minor league pitchers. Last season was particularly distressing: More pitchers had the surgery in 2014 than in the entirety of the 1990s.”
The UCL is a tiny ligament in the elbow that has to withstand a tremendous amount of rotational force or torque when a pitcher’s arm is stopped and makes its move forward to deliver a pitch to home plate.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
Research director at the American Sports Institute, Dr. Glenn Fleisig describes the process in the Grantland piece.
“When the arm is cocked back, there’s a large — what we call — varus torque. In this position, it’s 100 newton meters of torque. A bowling ball weighs 12 pounds, let’s say. If you put a bowling ball in your hand, imagine what your elbow would feel like. That would not be 100 newton meters. One hundred newton meters would be 60 pounds. Five bowling balls. Picture five bowling balls of force. That’s the stress of that instant in the elbow.”
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
The big question on the minds of many this morning is how does stem cell therapy work?
Stem cell therapy is becoming a popular alternative medical treatment for many medical issues including those that once seemed like surgery was the only option, such as UCL replacement and rotator cuff surgery.
Stem cells are the body’s own repair kit. When you receive an injury, your body’s stem cells rush to the injured area and start the healing process. Sometimes your own stem cells cannot get through to the injured area due to the amount of damage from the injury or surgery.
In these cases, stem cells are then harvested from your own body, concentrating them by placing them in a centrifuge, and then injecting them back into the injured part of the body. It is important not to confuse these types of stem cells with embryonic stem cells.
Modern stem cell therapy techniques harvest stem cells directly from the patient’s own body. This is a quick and safe process that involves the gathering of fat cells — also known as adipose tissue — from a patient, which are loaded with stem cells. Another form of the treatment harvests stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow
Once the stem cells have been harvested, they are separated by spinning them in a centrifuge. They are then ready to be reintroduced to the patient’s body.
Stem cell therapy is the process of using the harvested cells to help patients’ bodies repair damaged tissue. It can either accelerate an otherwise slow healing process or allow the body to heal tissue that would have otherwise remained damaged permanently.
The medical advancements in stem cell therapy have been remarkable for the advancement of non-invasive medical treatments.
Richards Big Bet
Richards is not the first MLB pitcher to opt for this surgical alternative. Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon had the stem cell treatment in 2010 to repair a torn rotator cuff and an elbow injury.
At the time, Colon’s doctor did not believe that he would return to MLB form. Colon not only returned to major league form, but has been playing at a high level at the advanced age of 41.
If Richards big bet is successful and he returns to the field in 2016, it could become a revolutionary moment in sports injury treatment, much the same way the original Tommy John treatment had when it was first performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974.
The good news for pain sufferers is that stem cell treatment is available as an alternative treatment to surgery for a wide variety of injuries. It is quickly becoming the future of how injuries are treated.
If you are suffering from any of the following injuries: sports injuries, back, rotator cuff, hip, arthritis, shoulder or are considering hip replacement or knee replacement surgery, stem cell therapy may provide you with the relief that you are looking for.
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As with any form of medical treatment, you should consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment plan. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed accurate for the purposes of diagnosing your particular medical condition