One of the most exciting things about medicine is that it is always changing and growing. Our understanding of the human body constantly evolves as new discoveries are made, new technologies are developed. Regenerative medicine – treatments that promote the body’s natural healing factors – is one of these relatively new discoveries. This post looks at two types of regenerative medicine, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and amniotic cell therapy, and how they may be used to treat common foot and ankle problems.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine replaces damaged tissue with healthy cells to encourage the body to heal itself. Sometimes, these healthy cells come from the patient, such as in PRP therapy. Other times, the tissues come from a donor bank, as with amniotic cell therapy. Injecting these cells into the body promotes its natural ability to generate new, healthy cells of its own. Patients typically heal more quickly and are usually able to avoid more invasive procedures like surgery.
What Is Platelet-Rich Plasma?
Platelet-rich plasma is exactly what it sounds like: Plasma that is rich is platelets. A vial of the patient’s own blood is placed in a centrifuge, separating the platelet-rich plasma from the red blood cells. Research suggests that PRP helps accelerate the healing process. There are two reasons for this. First, platelets contain growth factors known as alpha granules that play a key role in your body’s healing processes. Second, injecting PRP into damaged tissues stimulates the release of stem cells, another factor that triggers your body’s healing response. A number of disciplines are turning to PRP injections for its regenerative healing properties. Two early adopters have been sports medicine and plastic surgery, but it also shows great promise in treating common podiatry issues.
PRP in Podiatry
PRP injections may be used to treat a variety of conditions, including:
- PRP injections in patients with plantar fasciitis helped reduce inflammation of the plantar fascia and the heel in general.
- Athletes suffering from Achilles tendinopathy had faster healing times and less pain after PRP injection. This was true for both acute injuries, such as rupture, and chronic tendinitis.
- Patients with arthritis in the ankle joint reported less pain after receiving PRP injections. Doctors also noted slower progression of the disease. In some cases, patients even experienced tissue regeneration.
- Platelet-rich plasma injections helped facilitate faster wound healing and lower risk of infection for diabetic foot wounds, venous ulcers, and pressure ulcers.
In cases where surgery was required, patients who received PRP injections also experienced faster healing times.
What Is Amniotic Cell Therapy?
Amniotic cell therapy promotes tissue growth by stimulating production of your body’s own stem cells. This triggers the body’s healing response, reducing inflammation to alleviate pain and lubricating joints for improved mobility. The cells are taken from tissues in the amniotic membrane and umbilical cord after a caesarean birth. Under the guidance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Association of Tissue Banks uses a rigorous screening process on all donations.
Amniotic Cell Therapy and Podiatry
Amniotic cell therapy is one of the most exciting innovations in medicine today. Some researchers think that we’ll eventually be able to replace entire organs this way. In podiatry, amniotic cell injections have been used to correct Achilles tendinitis, foot ulcers, plantar fasciitis, chronic heel pain, and tendon rupture. Healing begins immediately following the injection, with healthy tissues replacing damaged cells over several weeks or months, depending on the injury.
Regenerative Medicine Frequently Asked Questions
Although it’s been practiced since the 1990s, regenerative medicine is a relatively new treatment method. Even researchers are still asking questions. Which is, of course, how we keep learning more about the potential of regenerative medicine and the body’s power to heal itself. The following are the most frequently asked questions we see at Phoenician Foot and Ankle.
What conditions respond best to regenerative medicine?
We’ve learned a lot about the possibilities of regenerative medicine due to its use as treatment for a variety of sports injuries. The following conditions respond well to regenerative medicine:
- Osteoarthritis of the joints, due to the anti-inflammatory response to PRP and amniotic cell injections
- Cartilage tears change to defects thanks to accelerated healing factors
- Tendon tears and injuries, particularly in response to amniotic cell therapy
- Plantar fasciitis, again due to the anti-inflammatory response
Do PRP injections have any side effects?
No, there are rarely any side effects from PRP injections. This is because the treatment uses the patient’s own blood. Patients may experience irritation or discomfort at the injection site, however.
Does amniotic cell therapy have any side effects?
There have been no reported side effects from amniotic cell therapy. As with all injections, there is risk of pain, irritation, or infection at the injection site.
What is the recovery time after regenerative medicine treatment?
Recovery time varies according to the reason for treatment. For example, PRP or amniotic cell injections to treat plantar fasciitis or the Achilles tendon typically require patients to wear a walking boot for one to two weeks. But, an injection for osteoarthritis in the ankle usually has you back to normal within 24 hours. Ask your doctor for post-procedure care instructions.
How long before PRP or amniotic cell injections work?
Patients may require multiple injections; much depends on the area and condition being treated. Most patients experience noticeable results within a few weeks, but healing continues for months. Expect to feel the maximum effect around six to nine months after treatment.
Can anyone get PRP injections?
Like most medical treatments, PRP is not for everyone. You may not be a candidate if:
- You’ve had cancer within the past 5 years
- You have a current infection
- You’re being treated for certain bloodborne diseases
- You take certain medications
- You have multiple chronic conditions
Share your complete medical history with your doctor to be sure PRP injections are safe and effective.
Will my insurance pay for regenerative medicine treatments?
Unfortunately, most insurances do not cover the cost of either PRP or amniotic cell injections.
Are amniotic cells the same thing as stem cells?
No. While amniotic cells have stem cells in them, they are what the FDA calls “terminally sterilized,” which occurs during the screening process. Amniotic cells come from the placenta and umbilical cord tissues after a live, caesarean birth. These tissues are normally discarded as waste, but patients may choose to donate them to a tissue bank. To be FDA-compliant, tissues must be processed in a way that removes all live cells. Otherwise, the product is classified and regulated as a drug.