Good News for Stem Cell Treatment on Elbows

One of the perennial questions faced by professional baseball pitchers is how long they will be able to do what they do. Pitching is extremely traumatic on the joints and ligaments of the shoulder and elbow, a fact which has led to many calls for limiting the pitch count of younger players.

But once a player is in the big leagues, he doesn’t have the luxury of sitting a few games out when he’s tired. Pros face all the same health issues as younger athletes, and the consequences can be punishing. When joints give out entirely, pitchers have traditionally been faced with two prospects: Tommy John surgery, or retirement.

But platelet rich plasma (PRP) may represent a Third Way, one which extends careers without extending time in recovery. As the Los Angeles Angels’ Garrett Richards recently discovered, the bounce-back can be astoundingly swift:

Instead of electing to undergo standard Tommy John surgery, Richards decided to try to heal his injury by getting an injection of stem cells directly into his elbow. . . . Gross, but it apparently worked. Passan reports Richards is feeling great and throwing 98 mph at spring training. Richards is clearly pleased with the tentatively positive outcome: “Science, bro. I’m a believer now,” Richards told Passan.

This isn’t the same response that everyone will have, of course. But it is an encouraging sign for this still-novel procedure, one that could soon be a common treatment for elbow pain that helps athletes young and old heal faster and play longer.

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