Avoiding Surgery With Stem Cells

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

A headline a few days ago caught my eye. It was how Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards was shut down for the year with tear in his UCL and was undergoing stem cell therapy as opposed to Tommy John surgery. What? Come again? Turns out that he isn’t the first pitcher to try this. Not even the first on his own team!

Garrett RichardsAfter a quick search I found an article by the Los Angeles Times Pedro Moura. He wrote about the stem cell treatment being undergone by Richards and his teammate Andrew Heaney. Essentially, the doctors are taking stem cells from the bone marrow and injecting it into the affected elbow. The idea is that the body will heal itself and you can avoid a surgery that could put a pitcher out for a year or more.

A lot of questions come up with this. The most important is ‘how do you know it worked?’ If it didn’t and the pitcher has to have surgery anyway and that delays their return even more.

That’s not even the crazy part.

According to the article, the stem cells can have human growth hormone (HGH) add to them to speed up the healing process. HGH of course is outlawed by every sports league and by the FDA. So it’s ok to remove a healthy tendon from another part of the body (opposite arm or leg) or even take one from a cadaver to replace the torn tendon, but it’s illegal to boost the cells taken from your own body to heal the torn tendon without surgery.

Something seems amiss here.

There is a growing concern that kids are pitching too much and are requiring Tommy John surgery earlier and earlier to the point that some are calling it an ‘epidemic‘. Non-surgical options are not just needed, they are to the point of being required.

I recommend reading Moura’s article and draw your own opinion. The fact that stem cell therapy is already taking place at this level and there is a chance that a pitcher can opt to not have surgery leaves one to believe that this topic isn’t going to go away anytime soon. If HGH can speed up the healing process and allow a pitcher to not have to have surgery than perhaps this should be looked at by the FDA and major league baseball a little bit more.