When a surgeon attempts to repair a broken bone or a torn ligament, the procedure is but one part of something quite complex. Indeed, healing musculoskeletal issues involves a lot more than sutures, plates, and screws. There is a biological process that takes place outside of the control of the surgeon. It involves orthobiologics.
An orthobiologic is a substance that surgeons use to help injuries heal faster. For example, orthopedic surgeons have been relying on platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to help heal bone fractures since the 1990s. Anyone who knows anything about PRP therapy knows just how much power rests in blood platelets and their associated growth factors. It is really not a stretch to say that PRP might even be the ultimate orthobiologic.
The Basics of Orthobiologics
In the arena of broken bones and ligaments, the body relies on certain natural processes to heal the damage done. Surgeons know that full and complete recovery revolves around three things. We list these below, compliments of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:
- Matrix – This is a substance in which the cells eventually responsible for repairing damaged tissue live. It is conductive material inasmuch as it is capable of providing the foundation for healing in addition to being the host for necessary cells.
- Stem Cells – These are the cells the body uses to generate different kinds of tissue. Stem cells are critical for orthopedic healing in that they create the tissue that heals the broken bone or the torn ligament.
- Growth Factors – Growth factors are different kinds of proteins that initiate, facilitate, and regulate the healing process. There are literally dozens of them, many of which are naturally found in blood plasma.
It is interesting to note that PRP material contains a concentrated level of both platelets and growth factors. The concentration is so high that PRP injections are known to be one of the most reliable orthobiologic options available to surgeons.
A complicated surgery that may involve inserting a plate or rod into a broken bone does not rely just on mechanical means for healing. Indeed, those mechanical devices really do not heal in and of themselves. They just provide structural support. Surgeons will use an orthobiologic to instigate healing even as the mechanical devices do what they are intended to do.
PRP for Less Serious Injuries
There are times when surgery is simply unavoidable. But there are other times when less invasive treatments are appropriate. For example, there are plenty of cases involving professional baseball players who have elected to undergo PRP injections rather than ligament surgery.
The same platelets and growth factors that surgeons would rely on as orthobiologics are present in a typical PRP injection. Those same platelets and growth factors stimulate natural healing. The only difference is that the patient is utilizing only injections rather than a combination of injections and surgery.
Looked at in that context, PRP injections no longer seem revolutionary for an athlete who would otherwise undergo surgery. If that athlete can get back to full health without assuming the risks of surgery, it makes a lot of sense to do so. Thankfully, PRP therapy is not just for athletes.
Apex Biologix, a Utah company that specializes in regenerative medicine equipment and supplies, says they work with doctors and clinics across the country who utilize PRP and stem cell injections to treat non-athletes suffering from osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal injuries, and even hair loss.
We have known for a long time how beneficial blood platelets and growth factors are. With that knowledge, it is probably fair to say that PRP is the ultimate orthobiologic.