Stem Cells Go Major League
Posted on September 29, 2017
Injured Los Angeles Angels pitcher JC Ramirez recently opted for stem cell therapy to repair his injured elbow. The right-handed Ramirez suffered a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during a game on July 27 pitching against Cleveland. The injury has been slow to heal and puts Ramirez’s ability to play next season in jeopardy.
The ulnar collateral ligament is located in the medial, or middle, part of the elbow.
Ramirez decided on stem cell treatment for his injury after talking to teammate Garrett Richards, who underwent stem cell injection therapy in 2016 for the same injury. Richards’ injury healed completely after his injection.
Stem Cells and Surgery
Ramirez received an injection of his own stem cells in August and hopes that he will be cleared to start pitching again soon.
Ideally, Ramirez will be able to play all of next season, which would not be possible if he had chosen the conventional treatment for his injury, a surgical procedure known as the “Tommy John Surgery.”
The procedure, named after Tommy John Jr., the famous LA Dodgers pitcher whose 288 pitching wins ranks him seventh-winningest left-handed pitcher in MLB history, requires an extended recovery period of inactivity.
During the procedure, a surgeon replaces the ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon taken from another part of the patient’s body or using donated tissue from a cadaver. The long recovery is something Ramirez and many other athletes want to avoid.
“Being benched waiting for an injury to heal is both painful and frustrating for athletes,” Dr. Joel Singer, M.D., said.
Singer is a New York physician who uses stem cell injections to treat patients with tears like Ramirez’s.
Understanding Ulnar Ligament Tears
These injuries are also painful and frustrating to the average Joe, too.
“Ligament tears of the elbow are relatively common. They can happen to anyone as a result of overuse that continuously stresses the ulnar collateral ligament, like throwing a ball or swinging a hammer, or as a consequence of trauma,” Singer said.
Ulnar ligament tears also frequently happen as a result of improper technique during activity.
“Some individuals develop the injury if their form is bad, like when weightlifting or doing other types of exercise,” Singer said.
Symptoms of an ulnar ligament tear include inflammation, tenderness and acute pain during activity, pain in the area when touched, and pain and instability when the arm is straight or bent.
Severe tears include swelling and bruising in the inner elbow.
“These injuries can heal on their own, but it takes a very long time and requires very limited activity or complete inactivity, and even then there are no guarantees it will fully heal,” Singer said.
Getting Back in the Game With Stem Cells
In addition to rest and inactivity, conventional treatment for ligament tears involves ice to reduce inflammation and pain, compression with sports tape or an elbow support device to immobilize the area, and massage to increase blood flow to the injury site.
Too often, these treatments only provide relief for a short time, and with activity, the area becomes inflamed again.
“After a while, patients find that these conventional self-care treatments stop working altogether and they’re left in pain or relying on pain relievers. Stem cells can change that by reducing inflammation and healing the damaged tissue, not just treating symptoms,” Singer said.
Singer’s stem cell therapy uses adipose fat stem cells taken directly from the patient’s thigh or abdomen. These cells are separated from blood and other tissue and then injected back into the affected area.
“The anti-inflammatory effects of the treatment are seen within just a few days,” Singer said. “Patients report having less pain and slowly see improved range of motion within weeks to just a few months of their treatment.”
LA Times. Angels pitcher JC Ramirez has torn ligament, will try stem-cell therapy. LA Times. 13 September 2017.