An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear is one of the most feared injuries and it is very common among athletes and active individuals. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), there are approximately 150,000 surgical reconstructions performed each year.
The ACL is important for knee stability and for preventing forward motion of the knee when stopping or turning. If you’re a sports fan, you have probably seen the many instances where a torn ACL has been labeled a “season-ending injury” for an athlete.
Recovery from a torn ACL is usually difficult and can take a long time. It does not heal on its own, so surgery was the only option for a long time.
Recent advancements with stem cell therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma therapy (PRP) offer a viable alternative for individuals who may be considering surgery due to a partial or complete non-retracted ACL tear.
These alternatives may allow patients to avoid the lengthy periods of downtime and painful ACL surgery rehabilitation that follows traditional invasive anterior cruciate ligament surgeries.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Stem cells are what the body uses to repair itself. They exist in the body’s bone marrow as well as in the muscles, skin and fat tissue.
Stem cell therapy is a simple process, broken down into the following three steps:
The stem cells are extracted from the patient’s body
Stem cells are extracted from the patient’s own body via fat cells — also known as adipose tissue. Adipose tissue is loaded with stem cells. Fat is typically drawn from the stomach or hip area to harvest the stem cells.
The stem cells are prepared for use
The fat that is extracted from the patient is processed with special enzymes to separate the stem cells from the fat and then placed in a centrifuge to prepare it for reinjection into the affected area.
The active stem cells are reintroduced back into the patient’s body
In the final step, the stem cells are injected into the patient’s body at the site of the joint problem. Image guidance technology is used to accurately pinpoint the where the stem cells need to be administered.
Stem cells act like the body’s own repair system. Once they are injected into the affected area, they start to go to work and seek to repair the damaged tissue and even regenerate muscles and tendons.
In most cases, it is possible to complete the entire procedure in approximately four hours.
Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy Overview
PRP therapy involves using a patient’s blood to treat an affected area. Under normal circumstances, the body responds to an injured area by sending platelet cells to the site of the injury.
These cells are loaded with healing growth components that help your body to repair damaged tissue such as a ligament. They stimulate the stem cells in the area so that they work harder to repair the tissue or ligament.
With PRP therapy, a patient’s blood is extracted. The extracted blood is then spun in a centrifuge. The spinning separates the platelets, and produces platelet rich plasma. This plasma is then injected into the knee. Most patients will see an improvement within 6 weeks of the procedure. Some patients continue to see improvements up to nine months after the administration of platelet rich plasma treatments.
In most cases, platelet rich plasma therapy consists of three injections over three months. Each procedure will take between one and two hours, which includes the time taken for PRP preparation and the procedure.
Benefits of treatment for ACL Injuries
Although you can go home on the same day as surgery, recovering from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery is not a quick process. From the time, you first undergo surgery through full rehabilitation, the process can take up to six months or more.
Current accepted medical theory concludes that ACL tears simply won’t heal without surgical intervention, however recent medical studies shows that stem cell therapy can help a patient heal faster and with potentially greater structural integrity than with ACL surgery.
Additionally, the fact that you can exercise earlier prevents your muscles from atrophy, which usually results in a faster return to normal activity.
Consult a specialist to find out whether stem cell therapy and/or platelet rich plasma therapy will be effective for treating your injury.
Image Credit: CDC/Amanda Mills | PD
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