Renaissance means rebirth or regeneration. Every few generations medicine takes a major turn. We’re at one of those junctures now with regenerative medicine — where healing is triggered from within the human body. It’s bringing a whole new universe to how physicians provide care.
Deer grow, shed and then regrow their antlers. Sea stars sacrifice but then regrow their arms. This is regeneration, and every species — from amoeba to human — is inherently capable of it to some degree…
Regenerative medicine helps bodies mend themselves, providing cures for people who have been living — until now — without treatment options. It’s a whole new realm of healing.
Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine
Musculoskeletal Healing: Why sometimes injuries heal and why sometimes they don’t
Healthcare is no longer merely the treatment of disease. We all want to live longer, live better and live healthier. We no longer want medications that treat pain but mask injury, procedures that cut and sew. As scientists learn more about the physiology of how our bodies heal, healthcare is able to apply this information… to discover methods of treatment that help our bodies heal the way they naturally heal, intrinsically.
Intrinsic healing, or healing from within, involves the regeneration of living tissue. In the musculoskeletal system, healing includes regeneration of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Some of these tissues heal quickly; others heal slowly and often incompletely.
The ability to heal is determined by many factors, some known and some unknown. We do know that when healing is incomplete, tissue damage becomes chronic, leading to arthritis, mechanical dysfunction and harmful stress to adjoining structural areas. Treatment of subtle obstructions, micro-tears, and impingements helps to maintain optimal body function and can prevent nagging pain from becoming a major injury.
Tissue damage to joints is particularly difficult to heal due to their complex structure and the nature of soft tissue encapsulating the joint. Movement happens not only by the muscles that move our skeletal system, but also through coordination of cartilaginous tissues surrounding the joints:
- Ligaments that hold the bones together
- Tendons that attach the muscles to the bones
- Articular cartilage that lubricates and acts as a shock absorber between the bones.
Muscle tissue has a healthy flow of blood that adequately supplies nutrients, growth factors, and oxygen, while removing metabolic waste to prepare the site for healing. This is apparent in the red color of muscles. Ligaments, tendons and cartilage, however, are white in color, as the blood supply to these tissues is poor. When acute or chronic injury occurs in these tissues, healing is slow and often incomplete.
The liquid portion of blood, acts as a transport medium for blood cells, nutrients, and removal of metabolic waste products to prepare the site for healing. Platelets, once thought to merely help with blood clotting, contain growth factors called alpha granules that stimulate the release of localized stem cells. Often, when the amount of stem cells required for healing become depleted or the body is able to supply only limited blood flow, healing sometimes needs a little help.
The oxygen consumption of tendons and ligaments is 7.5 times lower than that of skeletal muscles. The low metabolic rate and well-developed anaerobic energy generation capacity are essential to carry loads and maintain tension for long periods. However, a low metabolic rate results in slow healing after injury.
Tendon and ligament injury account for about half of all musculoskeletal injuries. Injury to a tendon, for example, can occur when repeated use of a muscle causes stress on the tendon that attaches it to the bone. This repeated stress can result in micro-tears, a form of tendinopathy called a “strain.” A common example of this is Golfer’s Elbow or Tennis Elbow. Because of poor blood supply to this thick cartilaginous tissue, strains are slow to heal. When left untreated, the weakened tissue can rupture or tear which is often the situation with a torn rotator cuff, a condition that heals slowly and rarely completely.
Damaged ligaments become stretched or lax, causing bones in the joint to shift. This movement causes pain, muscle spasms, and eventually arthritis. When stretched, small nerve fibers in damaged ligaments transmit pain impulses to the brain. Through a subconscious reflex, the surrounding muscles go into a painful spasm in an attempt to stabilize the joint. Often, painful knots appear in the surrounding muscles. Muscles become tight and painful as they try to compensate for the weak and damaged underlying structures. Spasm in the muscles decreases the blood flow and nutrient delivery to the tissue, further contributing to the breakdown. The chronic tension from the muscles in spasm leads to deterioration of the tendon attachments, leading to tendinosis, chronic tendon degeneration.
Slow healing results in formation of scar tissue that inhibits smooth musculoskeletal function. During healthy repair, cells regenerate with necrotic cells being replaced by new cells, the body’s natural process of regeneration. When healing is inhibited due to poor blood supply and subsequent lack of necessary growth factors, nutrients and proteins, slow, incomplete healing occurs. Rather than healthy regeneration of cells, injured tissue is partially replaced by scar tissue that restricts the natural function of the musculoskeletal system.
Physiology of Intrinsic healing
Ligaments and tendons contain similar biological structure. Healing of these tissues is divided into four overlapping stages with the body functioning similarly to an EMR unit, each biological function doing its own job in turn. Some conditions will always require surgery, particularly when none of the damaged tissue is intact. Intrinsic healing enhanced by regenerative injections, however, allows for less secondary tissue damage and quicker, more complete healing.
THE FOUR STAGES OF HEALING
- Maturation Week 6-18 months
Scar tissue, part of the proliferation phase, generally causes adhesion formation that inhibits mechanical function.
When healing is enhanced through cellular regenerative procedures, repair provides increased collagen deposit resulting in reduced scar tissue.
Intrinsic healing through an accelerated process results in better biomechanics, particularly a better gliding motion in the tendon sheathe.
Treatment for joint injury
Pain in musculoskeletal injury is often caused by inflammation, a sign that the body is trying to heal. Controlled levels of inflammation are necessary for healing. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are effective at reducing pain and inflammation, but do not have a healing effect. Actually, they have an inverse effect on healing. By inhibiting the body’s natural EMR unit that responds by rushing blood and healing factors to the site of injury, cortisone and anti-inflammatory medications ultimately block the body’s production of collagen, the primary component of tendons, ligaments and other cartilaginous tissue. By masking the injury, anti-inflammatory drugs can also lead to complete rupture.
Regenerative injection procedures have been used to treat pain and injuries for more than sixty years with consistent and positive results. With advancement in technology and science, PRP and Stem Cell Injections are changing the way physicians are treating orthopedic conditions. Studies conducted on patients with chronic injury show excellent results in pain relief and improved function with treatments producing long-lasting relief. Through stimulation of the body’s natural healing response, the actual cause of the pain or dysfunction has been addressed, not merely masked.
Injuries to ligaments, tendons or cartilage often need a little help supplying the ingredients necessary to regenerate tissue. Regenerative Orthopedic procedures are designed to fill this need by injecting directly into the injury the growth factors, nutrients and stem cells your body naturally uses to replenish and repair damaged tissue. Suffering with pain from chronic musculoskeletal injury or arthritis is no longer necessary. Regenerative procedures are the future of medicine!