The typical orthopaedic patient journey begins with an evaluation and discussion about treatment options with a board certified orthopaedic specialist. Depending on the severity of the injury, the physician will help patients determine if medication, physical therapy and activity modification can help the issue. Once these conservative measures cease to provide relief from joint pain, surgery is often the next alternative; but, what if a patient doesn’t want surgery? What are some alternatives to surgery available now?

Although not backed with extensive scientific research and study at this moment, the treatment modalities below are available for patients interested in seeking relief from pain with an understanding the results may or may not provide lasting relief.

What is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)?

Our blood is composed of red and white blood cells as well as what’s known as platelets. Platelets play an important role in blood clotting, but they also possess a great number of vital proteins known as growth factors. These growth factors are critical components that help the body heal from injury. Today, platelet rich plasma (PRP), is one of the most popular, though experimental, alternative treatments to surgery.

PRP plasma mixture being created during the procedure.

PRP plasma mixture being created during the procedure.

PRP is a plasma mixture that contains a much greater concentration of platelets (as much as 10 times as many growth factors than what is normally found in blood).

“PRP is a derivative of your blood,” says Bradd G. Burkart, M.D., a board certified orthopaedic surgery specializing in sports medicine, knee and shoulder surgery. “What we do is we draw some blood out of a peripheral intravenous and then spin it down in the centrifuge. We then take the layer that includes the platelets and the growth factors, put it into a syringe and reinject it back into your body, in the joint for arthritis, or into a tendon for tendonitis.”

Although it’s not known precisely how PRP works, medical studies have indicated the higher aggregation of growth factors in PRP can accelerate the healing process.

“PRP has been shown, in some cases, to create a significant reduction in the amount of healing time and it makes people feel quite a bit better,” says Dr. Burkhart. “With knee arthritis for instance, (PRP) has been shown to give people relief for up to a year. It’s also been shown to work really well for things like tennis elbow and tendonitis in other areas.”

What is Stem Cell Treatment?

Example of an ultrasound guided stem cell injection.

Example of an ultrasound guided stem cell injection.

Another alternative treatment to surgery gaining a lot of attention recently is the use of stem cells to treat chronic joint pain.

Stem cells are unique, young cells that can self-renew and divide in order to multiply, thereby repairing and replacing tissue in the human body. Essentially, the stem cells can become whatever cells they need to be and help repair and replace older, tired cells. Dr. Burkhart jokes a stem cell is an immature cell that hasn’t really decided what it wants to do when it grows up.

“What we do is we take those stem cells, separate them and then reinject them into the joint, the tendon, or whatever is causing the pain or inflammation in your body,” says Dr. Burkhart. “And the idea is that that stem cell, when it’s in that environment, will turn into the appropriate cell that’s needed in that area, say your knee, or some cartilage, or in your tendon.”

Are These Treatments Right for You?

“These alternatives to surgery are potentially really going to change the scope of orthopaedic practice,” says Dr. Burkhart. “This is cutting edge technology and cutting edge orthopaedic medicine and something that we offered here at Orlando Orthopaedic Center.”

Dr. Burkhart notes that studies are still pending for these types of treatment options and they are often not covered by insurance, but in the future, they may become very common. As it stands, Orlando Orthopaedic currently offers them to their patients seeking relief from pain without a shoulder, knee or hip replacement.