Regenerative medicine is a still-developing branch of medicine that seeks to harness the body’s innate ability to heal itself in the management of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders. While regenerative medicine as a whole has applications far beyond the musculoskeletal system, orthopedic regenerative medicine is focused on delivering specific types of the body’s own cells, some of which have been processed to optimize their ability to promote healing, to the site of an injury. Once delivered, these cells use their natural anti-inflammatory and healing properties to act on the damaged tissue and help drive recovery. There are a number of procedures that fall under the umbrella of regenerative medicine, but two of the most common treatments today are platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy and stem cell therapy.
Regenerative medicine is a nascent, cutting-edge branch of medicine and long-range outcome studies are likewise still in progress. When we began using autologous biologics–meaning orthobiologic cells were harvested from and reinjected into the same person–about ten years ago, our first priority was to assess the safety profile of these injections. After extensive research, literature review, and dialogue with thought leaders in the field, it became very clear that platelet-rich plasma therapy, bone marrow aspirate concentrate, and fat grafts were among the safest injection therapies available to clinicians. In fact, these injections were much safer than the exogenous steroids and other chemicals synthesized in a lab that were already in use around the world. Today, we even have evidence to suggest that platelet-rich plasma is a powerful and broad-spectrum antibiotic! As this nascent field develops, the efficacy of orthobiologic therapies will continue to solidify, and the standard of care use and protocols for these procedures will become better defined and outlined for providers.
Clearly, the growing consensus about regenerative medicine is that the field promises some key advantages over traditional treatments like surgery. First, regenerative medicine is less invasive than surgery and is done in the outpatient setting with no significant incisions, nor use of sutures. The risks of infection and complications are therefore dramatically lower and recovery time following the procedure is minimal. The most common side-effect of a regenerative medicine procedure is little more than soreness at the site of injection and/or cellular harvesting.
Second, regenerative medicine procedures require very little, if any, pain medication during recovery and in most cases exclusively uses the body’s own cells to drive recovery. This means there are usually no foreign chemicals, additives or implants being injected into your body, further lowering the risk of complications following a procedure. Considering that our country is in the midst of a raging opioid epidemic driven by our overuse of these powerful drugs, keeping patients off of narcotics–or at the very least keeping them to a minimum–during recovery is no small matter.