When Royals manager Ned Yost revealed on Saturday that outfielder Lorenzo Cain recently received a stem-cell injection to treat his sprained left wrist, it might have left some confused.
Wait, stem cells? Is that legal?
The answer is yes — at least in the United States — and the treatment method, while somewhat new, is more prevalent in professional sports than you might think.
First, the stem cells used in sports medicine are different than the ones that have become embroiled in political debate in the United States. The contentious ones are human embryonic stem cells that come from unused embryos. The ones used to treat Cain were adult stem cells, which can come from your own body or a donor.
In broad terms, an injection of adult stem cells — the body’s natural building blocks — is meant to help rebuild damaged cartilage or aid in recovery.
“It had been a kind of taboo topic of sorts,” Michael Swartzon, a sports medicine physician with the Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute at Baptist Health South Florida, told the Miami Herald earlier this year. “How we obtain (stem cells) is regulated to avoid any appearance of trying to engineer better human beings.
“In sports medicine, we have a narrowed view of what we want them to do and that is to repair and reconstruct tissue, reduce pain and inflammation and increase speed of recovery.”
The treatment has become popular among NFL players and other professional athletes. According to Cain, the stem-cell treatment was meant to reduce inflammation and speed up his recovery, creating scar tissue that would strengthen his sprained wrist.
For now, it didn’t quite work. But the Royals are still hopeful Cain can return before the end of the season.
“The shot was to create scarring over my injury,” Cain said, “to help it hopefully heal faster and regain strength.”