Although the visible signs of aging are readily seen with the naked eye, there's a lot more going on than shows on the surface. Various musculoskeletal conditions often accompany aging, as does pain in the joints and muscle tissue. For the aging athlete, these changes can be a real downer on the ability to perform and enjoy sports. Stem cell injection therapy may be a game-changer for many older athletes.
How Do We Age?
Aging actually takes place at the cellular level. Our cells normally replace themselves by dividing and growing new cells. Over time, cells mutate (change), so the replacement cells don't look or function as they once did. The cellular level repair processes don't function as well, either. Scientists have found that in conditions that cause premature aging, mutations in the genes that maintain our DNA are common. The mitochondria – structures often called the “powerhouse” of the cell – don't work as well as they formerly did and changes in the way proteins develop also contribute to the aging process. The skin begins to sag and wrinkle, hair grows gray, vision and hearing change. Most importantly from the perspective of the aging athlete, strength and flexibility decline, and wear and tear in the joints can cause cartilage loss and pain.
Bone and Joint Pain in the Aging Athlete
Bone and joint pain tend to become more common in all of us as we age. Much of this is due to the cells' inability to regenerate as well as they did when we were younger. While genetics can play a role, past injuries, overuse and generally less flexible musculoskeletal structures are also important. Athletes often have certain conditions that are related to their particular sport. For example, baseball pitchers are prone to shoulder and elbow injuries, while football players and runners are more likely to have problems with knees and ankles. These injuries can be the result of a sudden, single impact such as a fall or can occur gradually from overuse. Even after they have healed, there may still be some pain and disability, or the area where the injury occurred may not be as strong or flexible.
What is Stem Cell Injection Therapy?
To put it in a nutshell, stem cells are collected from the patient's body and re-injected elsewhere – that process is known as stem cell injection therapy. All cells can replace themselves with identical copies. Stem cells, however, are undifferentiated, which means that they have the potential to develop into many different types of cells. Stem cells could develop into tissue, bone, or cartilage. Since they have a unique capacity to regenerate (self-renew), stem cells can help repair damaged or diseased tissue. In fact, scientists are beginning to think that we may eventually be able to use stem cells to grow whole new organs. The reason stem cell therapy shows so much promise in orthopedics is that it is the degeneration of tissue and bone that causes or accompanies so many musculoskeletal conditions. Stem cell therapy isn't a new technique – it's probably best-known as a treatment for leukemia in the form of bone marrow transplants, which have been used for over 30 years.
Stem Cell Therapy In Orthopedics
Doctors who specialize in orthopedics are beginning to use stem cell injection therapy to treat bones, joints and tendons. These stem cells can help overcome the problems with the aging body's cell regeneration process by providing fresh new cells to promote healing. Treatment is relatively simple – first the doctor aspirates cells from the patient's body. The hip bone is a common site for this process. The cells are placed in a centrifuge, which spins them to concentrate the cells. Next these concentrated cells are aspirated into a syringe and injected into the desired treatment area. A local anesthetic takes care of any discomfort and the whole process usually takes about an hour. Downtime is minimal in most cases.
Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy
For the aging athlete, stem cells may dramatically decrease chronic joint pain – some patients are able to stop taking medication or at least decrease the amount they take. Stem cell injections may also increase joint flexibility, offering better joint function and increased range of motion. Collagen is an important protein in the tissues that tends to diminish with age; stem cells can promote increased collagen development. Stem cells can also decrease healing time.
In short, stem cell injections can make a big difference for the aging athlete in terms of decreased pain and better healing ability. If you're an older athlete who wants to keep playing, talk to an orthopedic specialist about stem cell injection therapy. Aging need not hamper your ability to play and stem cells can help you heal.