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Orthobiologic Treatments for the Elbow

What are Orthobiologics? 

Orthobiologics are natural substances such as cells, blood components and growth factors that are typically used to speed up the healing of damaged tissues such as bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Orthobiologics may be obtained from your own body or a donor and are usually administered in the form of injections. They can be used in the treatment of many orthopedic conditions including elbow injuries.

Significance of Orthobiologics

Your body can repair most injuries by itself. However, with severe injuries or with advancing age, your body’s repair process may find it difficult to keep up with the damage done.

Your elbows are normally used for various activities involving repetitive movements and are prone to wear and tear. Over time, the damage to your elbows can get worse unless the body’s repair system is somehow enhanced. Orthobiologics can help boost your body’s repair system and ensure fast and efficacious healing naturally.

Types of Orthobiologics

There are three main types of orthobiologics:

  • Cell therapy: These are a concentrate of specialized cells derived from the bone marrow or abdominal fat of the body. They can differentiate into other cell types to regenerate tissue. 
  • PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma): PRP is derived from your blood which is drawn, collected and spun at high speeds in a centrifuge machine to separate out the platelets and plasma components. 
  • Matrix (conductive materials): These are natural bone grafts obtained from the patient or a donor and functions as a medium in which new bone grows. It is used when there is a gap as a result of significant bone loss. 

Of all the types, cell therapy has the greatest potential for promoting healing. This therapy is increasingly being used in the treatment of elbow injuries and conditions and may be considered as an alternative to elbow surgery.

Indications for Cell Therapy

You may be a candidate for cell therapy if you: 

  • Have suffered an elbow injury, present or past
  • Have failed traditional or conventional treatments and surgery is being considered

The Spectrum of Cell Therapy 

Cell therapy can be utilized to treat a wide range of elbow injuries and conditions including:

  • Osteoarthritis: Degeneration of your elbow joint cartilage and the underlying bone due to wear-and-tear or damage, resulting in pain and stiffness in the elbow
  • Tennis elbow: Overloading of elbow tendons due to repetitive motions of your arm and wrist leading to pain and tenderness in the joint
  • Golfer’s elbow: A stiff elbow with pain caused by damage to the muscles and tendons that control your wrist and fingers, due to excess or repeated stress
  • Dislocations / instability: Looseness in the elbow joint experienced during certain arm movements due to an injury, typically dislocation

Concept of Cell Therapy 

Specialized cells are present in all of us that act like a repair system for the body. The purpose of cell therapy is to make use of these cells to aid in the natural regeneration of the injured or damaged tissues such as bone, muscle or tendon.

When these cells are injected into your injured elbow, they begin to divide, grow and subsequently develop into the kind of cells needed for repair thus accelerating the healing process.

Source of Specialized Cells 

There are many sources of these specialized cells in your body. The most important source is bone marrow located in the centers of long bones and the pelvic bones from where they are usually derived as this region has the highest concentration of these cells.

However, these cells may also be harvested from natural fat deposits in your body such as the abdomen. Your doctor will choose the right source depending on your requirement and condition.

The Procedure of Cell Therapy 

The procedure usually takes about half an hour depending on several factors. It is performed under local anesthesia. A highly sophisticated ultrasound instrument with enhanced needle visualization is used for the precise delivery of these cells. 

During the procedure:

  • The area from where the cells are to be harvested is cleaned and numbed.
  • Using a special needle and syringe, fluid containing the cells is drawn from the source. 
  • The fluid obtained is then spun in a centrifuge machine for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • This process helps obtain a concentrated layer of the specialized cells which is to be used. 
  • The injured area in your elbow is thoroughly cleaned and numbed.
  • The specialized cells are then injected into the damaged tissue under image guidance.

If a donor has provided the specialized cells required for cell therapy, the sample is tested and treated to ensure that it will not create an immune or allergic reaction in the patient. You will usually return home on the same day.

Benefits of Cell Therapy 

  • Simple, minimally invasive outpatient procedure
  • No hospitalization or frequent hospital visits
  • Nearly pain-free or no pain procedure
  • Little to no risk of rejection or infection (if obtained from your body)
  • Faster healing and full, long-lasting recovery (in most cases)
  • Improved elbow mobility and functionality naturally

Cell therapy is a new-generation, advanced technique with many potential applications. It has shown promising results in the treatment of elbow injuries and conditions.