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Breaking Down Garrett Richards’ Injury

by Eric Petty
May 18, 2016

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Garrett Richards is having his elbow treated with Stem Cells

The latest reports are that Garrett Richards will hold off on Tommy John surgery treatment to rehabilitate his Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury. This injury and Tommy John surgery are fairly common at this point and frankly not that interesting of a topic on its own. I find it most interesting that we are getting to a point where surgery is no longer the only options for significant injuries. Stem Cell treatment is not new to the medical field, especially if you look at it as more of an adjunct to other treatments such as surgery or Physical Therapy. The unique part with Garrett Richards is that it appears that he is not planning on using stem cell treatment to complement surgery, but plans to replace surgery all together with this treatment. If you are a serious fantasy baseball owner or a serious fantasy owner for any sport, I would pay close attention to this case. The best way to get an edge in any fantasy contest (especially daily fantasy) is to truly understand something better than the masses or to know something that the masses do not know. I am no Vegas shark, but I have used information about injuries and performance norms to win a few daily fantasy tournaments simply because the vast majority of players are not looking at the injury angles. Most people just peek at an injury report with no care for the details. If I was looking for a niche edge in maybe one or two tournaments per year, I would ask myself “Should I put an early investment in a player who used stem cell treatment as a sole repairing treatment option?” More than likely everyone will fade a player with these circumstances; the question is should you do the same?

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In order to answer the question for yourself, you have to have some of the information. I specifically say “some of the information” as if you dive too deep into stem cell treatment, it will make your brain spin. Stem Cell Treatment can get pretty complicated and if you are the research type, I am sure you can find a very detailed description of the treatment. I will give you the cliff notes version–Stem cell treatment uses cells that are like Tetris blocks in that they can connect and build upon each other to heal injured tissues in a shorter time than the tissues would heal on their own. Many times the cells are harvested from your own body (usually bone marrow) or from fetal bone marrow or other fetal tissues which are even better cells to build with. The speed of cell growth and repair in the early embryonic stages is the advantage of using these fetal stem cells, while harvesting bone marrow cells and using science to manipulate its form before re-injecting back into an injured area has been the wider used option to date. Stem cell treatment can be used in just about any injury and in some cases can be used for prevention purposes. The approach is usually used to speed up healing and allow more blood flow to an area that is receiving other interventions.

Roberto Colon was reported to have successfully used stem cell treatment to aid in his rotator cuff recovery in 2010 and at that time it seemed to have some controversy attached to it. Colon used his own bone marrow and appeared to have attained as good or better result than he would have had with surgery. Additionally, stem cell treatment is widely used to complement surgeries throughout the four major sports with big names like Peyton Manning being associated with Stem cell treatment for his neck injury. Similar to platelet rich plasma (PRP) and human growth hormone (HGH), stem cell treatment has gone through the scrutiny of potentially being a performance enhancer. Additionally, stem cell treatment that uses embryonic cells has a whole other ethical can of worms to go with it, therefore, the practice of this has been somewhat slowed over the years by the political process. In the end, I believe that stem cell treatment, PRP, and HGH are all serious players in the future of Injury Science; and of the three stem cell treatment could be the one that achieves the greatest accomplishments. In the case of Garrett Richards, he may end up helping the medical field more than he will actually help himself by being a case study for how much stem cell treatment can really accomplish without big brother Tommy John to help. This is not far-fetched as stem cell use in meniscus tears, bone fractures, other minor injuries or conditions appears to be successful so far; but if stem cell treatment can hit a home run with this injury it would be a big deal.

Physical Therapy is an evidenced-based practice; meaning that anything that we do or stand by has evidence to back it up. With that said, it is too early to make any predictions on how Garrett Richards will respond to avoiding the surgical procedure that has become a household name. I do know this; if stem cell treatment has come far enough to literally replace surgery, we are looking at a game changer! Eventually, these things all become common knowledge but if you can be on the front end of understanding this, you may be able to use it to your advantage. Many fantasy owners will only see is that Garrett Richards has a torn UCL and will try to avoid surgery and from that moment the door will close for most. I think that our world has shown us that we never stand still. As I answer calls and text on my watch like Michael Knight; listen to my 6 year old speak fluent Chinese; and get ready to check up on just about every one I’ve ever known by looking at Facebook on my television , I seriously doubt that UCL tears will still require Tommy John surgery 20 years from now….so why not have it start now?

Dr. Eric Petty is a Physical Therapist who is taking his talents from the treatment room to help fantasy owners. You can find more of his work at his site, The Injury Report Doctor, and you can follow him @DrPettyIRD.

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