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Doctors signing up for one of our stem cell or PRP therapy training courses tend to think of the regenerative medicine procedures we teach as reactive treatments. That is to say they will go to treat patients already suffering from musculoskeletal injuries or chronic pain. There is, however, another way to look at it: regenerative medicine as a preventative measure.
We already know that PRP injections are effective in helping some patients find relief from chronic pain. The injections have proven successful in helping injured athletes recover more quickly while avoiding more invasive procedures. Now there appears to be an interest in using PRP therapy as a preventative measure in high-risk patients who may present future problems. Once again, we turn to professional sports.
At the end of every annual baseball campaign, reports of injured players begin emerging. One by one, clubs start revealing who among them needs to undergo off-season treatment for certain injuries. Things die down for a few months before the whole process starts again with spring training. More often than not, the most prominent players in need of medical treatment are pitchers.
This past October, Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani was among those seeking PRP injections. The two-way player – he pitches and plays outfield – was not officially listed on the team’s injury report, so why did he receive injections? Angels general manager Billy Eppler said it was a preventative measure initiated by Ohtani’s former team in Japan.
Further investigation reveals that Ohtani sprained his right ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) earlier this year while playing for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. Though the sprain is considered minor, it could lead to a UCL tear in the future if Ohtani does not take care of his right elbow. Thus, he agreed to the PRP injections.
As for the Angels, they put their newly signed star through a rigorous physical examination after they signed him. They reported that he is in good health and expected to participate in regular team activities when spring training commences.
So, what exactly do we have here? We have a star athlete who showed signs of minor injury by way of a sprain in the right elbow. We know that the particular ligament that was stressed could tear in the future, requiring Tommy John surgery to repair it. These kinds of injuries are so common in professional baseball that every major league team prepares for them. In Ohtani’s case, the decision was made to try to prevent a future UCL tear by addressing the sprain with PRP therapy.
It will be interesting to follow Ohtani during the 2018 season. If his right elbow remains strong and he performs well, there will undoubtedly be some who credit the PRP therapy for his success. A positive outcome would not prove anything, but it would be motivation to look at other cases of PRP being used as a preventative measure.
It may turn out that things like stem cell and PRP therapy could be the best option for preventing serious injury in athletes. And if that is indeed the case for athletes, the same might also be true for people injured in car accidents, suffering from workplace injuries, and in the early stages of potentially debilitating conditions like osteoarthritis.
The jury is still out over whether PRP therapy should be used as preventative medicine. But it is a possibility we should be looking at. Hopefully, Shohei Ohtani’s decision to get PRP injections will help keep him healthy for the entire 2018 season.