Friday, February 12, 2010

The Great Red Hope

A recent experimental treatment for tendinosis was found to no more effective than injecting salt water.

The hopes of many were raised when the media put forth articles such as these:

It sounds seductive to take extracts of the athlete's own blood and inject them into the injured area to heal an injured tendon. Most chronic tendon injuries are as a result of a complex process called tendinosis. So what is the cliff notes version of tendinosis? The suffix "osis" implies a pathology of chronic degeneration without inflammation. The main problem for someone with tendinosis is failed healing, not inflammation; tendinosis is an accumulation over time of microscopic injuries that don't heal properly. Although inflammation can be involved in the initial stages of the injury, it is the inability of the tendon to heal that perpetuates the pain and disability. Most of the pain associated with tendinosis probably comes not from inflammation but from other irritating biochemical substances associated with the injury. Biochemically, it is the replacement of injured tendon collagen with the wrong kind of collagen. Normal tendons and ligaments consist mostly of Type I collagen, with smaller amounts of Type III collagen. When you get tendinosis, some of your collagen is injured and breaks down. Your body tries to heal the tendon, but when you have chronic tendinosis your body doesn't repair the collagen properly. The tendon loses its spring like characteristics which triggers more abnormal forces in a degenerating vicious cycle.

I know of many a recent athlete that opted for this procedure, which is not covered by medical insurances, only to have found they wasted valuable time and money.

The results of this double blind study are discussed here:

The new study included 54 people with chronic Achilles tendinopathy who participated in an exercise program to stretch their tendon while contracting their calf muscle. The exercise program was coupled with either a PRP injection or a saline (dummy) injection. Researchers measured pain and activity levels using a standardized tool at baseline, 6, 12, and 24 weeks.
Although there was an improvement seen among individuals treated with PRP after 24 weeks, it was no different than what was seen among those who received the placebo injection.

So what is a poor injured athlete to do? Surgery does work but takes 1 to 3 years to get "back to form." Keep in mind that "form" is slower than the pre-surgery form. I find the best option is to start with off-loading the tendon. A special tape is applied every 3 to 5 days to reduce peak forces in the tendon. Varying amounts of eccentric strengthening exercises are also helpful. Cortisone type steroids are a complete no no for this problem. However some people gain benefit from injection of an extract form the Arnica Montana plant. Then identify the hidden causes the are overloading the tendon. This takes a thorough, analytical, and diligent sports medicine physician. If you could do it yourself, you wouldn't be at this level of chronic injury, now would you?

Fighting tendinosis is a complex war, not a single battle. There is no magical silver bullet. So use all the resources at your disposal and increase a victorious outcome.

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