joint repairs are the body’s own. “Tissues naturally replicate and, through healing, get better over time,” says Darryl D’Lima, M.D., Ph.D. That’s why researchers are studying ways to boost the body’s self-repair with techniques like these:
Platelets in blood plasma contain proteins called growth factors that promote healing. In PRP therapy, your doc draws your blood, spins it to separate and concentrate the platelets, and injects the preparation into a joint, hoping to help the healing process. Studies suggest it’s most effective for chronic tendon injuries, especially tennis elbow, but research hasn’t conclusively shown it’s better than existing treatments.
Stem cells harvested from bone marrow (new research is looking into extracting them from fat) have the potential to grow into other types of cells. Once programmed in the lab, they’re put into a joint to grow new tissues like cartilage and ligament. The therapy has shown promise in animal studies, and some clinics offer it for osteoarthritis. “But the jury is still out,” says Dr. D’Lima.
Enhanced ACL repair
In a new technique, a scaffold loaded with a patient’s blood is placed between the ends of a torn ACL before they’re sutured. Called bridge-enhanced ACL repair, or BEAR, it stimulates healing in the ligament and doesn’t require a graft from elsewhere in the body. “Good preliminary results,” says Brian Sennett, M.D.