Cell Therapy for Treating Sporting Injuries

25 July, 2020
The use of cell therapy is beginning to emerge as a way of treating sporting injuries. In this article, we'll talk about the benefits of this type of therapy and which injuries it could be most useful for.
 

Cell therapy involves the use of stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue, and it’s currently already being used in traumatology for treating sporting injuries.

One of the first uses was on cartilage. In this case, stem cells are injected into areas that have been ruptured or damaged. These cells then create new healthy cartilage cells (chondrocytes). The results are more than promising, and elite athletes already have the authorization to try out this therapy.

However, cell therapy is still in limbo between experimentation and application. Almost all countries require prior approval by a regulatory body and it must be performed in pre-authorized centers.

Despite this, experts see it as the future of sports medicine, and it won’t be long until it becomes more widely available, even for amateur athletes.

What are the benefits of cell therapy for treating sporting injuries?

Cell therapy with stem cells has notable benefits when compared to other forms of treatment. In particular, traditional surgical procedures will normally require a surgeon to make an incision in bodily tissues in order to enter the body. This is often not the case in cell therapy.

Stem cells are also capable of regulating inflammation. When grafted onto damaged tissue, they don’t just replace the missing tissue but also stop inflammation. This reduces the damage associated with the initial injury, which can often last for years.

This ability to control inflammation means that cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy. Once the fluid and cell build-up caused by the inflammation is under control, new cells appear and new tissue is created instead of a scar.

 
A footballer suffering from a knee injury.

Another benefit of stem cell therapy is an increase in vascular flow. These cells stimulate the formation of new arterial and venous connections to restore blood circulation, which in turn reduces pain.

Injuries that could benefit from cell therapy

In the long term, the applications for cell therapy seem endless. But for the time being, some sports-related injuries are already seeing the benefits of stem cells with positive results.

This therapy is already leading the way in the treatment of bone and muscle injuries, and the use of regenerative medicine for treating lateral epicondylitis seems to be already well established.

Experts have carried out trials to repair tears in the rotator cuff and also the knee, particularly the anterior cruciate ligament. Stem cells also seem to be very effective in treating serious Achilles tendon injuries.

Until now, all of these sporting injuries have usually been treated with surgery. Surgeons have to open up tissues in order to enter and repair the injury, and this carries certain risks. If the wounds don’t heal properly and a lot of scar tissue develops, then the athlete may never compete again.

 

Cell therapy, however, appears to prevent poor healing. This increases the chances of a quick return to sport with minimal harmful after effects.

Use of adjuvants in the treatment

Cell therapy using stem cells currently also involves the use of other adjuvants. These are substances that complement the regeneration process and improve the final results.

A man suffering from a knee injury.

The problem with adjuvants is that sporting authorities see many of them as a form of doping. One typical example is the use of platelet preparations, which are banned in a number of professional sports.

This treatment involves extracting platelets from the patient and placing them next to the stem cells. This speeds up the scarring process and provides nutrients for the creation of new cells.

Another widely used adjuvant is biological supports or scaffolds. These are substances, such as hydroxyapatite and fibrin, that serve as a guide for stem cells.

Cell therapy is the future

Research in regenerative cell therapy is advancing all the time, and it won’t be long before this is a common treatment option for sporting injuries.

There’s still a lot to discover about this therapy and its long-term effects, but the results are already very promising. And although legislation will need to be adapted to pave the way for widespread use, elite athletes are already making use of it, and very soon, it could well be available for amateur athletes too.

 
  • Hernández-Hernández, Alicia, et al. La medicina regenerativa y sus vínculos con la medicina del deporte. Revista Cubana de Hematología, Inmunología y Hemoterapia 29.2 (2013).
  • Rienzi, Alfredo, Andrew Miller, and Ignacio Cuevas. Plasma rico en plaquetas. Indicaciones en lesiones deportivas. Tendencias en Medicina 48 (2016): 145-51.
  • Piloto Tomé, Kenia M., et al. Lisado plaquetario autólogo en el tratamiento de la epicondilitis. Revista Cubana de Hematología, Inmunología y Hemoterapia 32.2 (2016): 282-284.