Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles told Sports Illustrated that he recently had stem-cell treatment as part of his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Charles, who is on injured reserve, said this is the first time he has used the procedure. When he tore his ACL in 2011, he did not use the treatment but did so this time because he believes it can help him return to the field quicker. Charles says he had stem cells injected during his ligament-repair surgery and again six weeks later. The treatment involves taking a patient’s bone marrow, extracting the stem cells and then injecting them into the injured part of the body.
“We’re now in the orthobiologic era,” said Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, an orthopedic surgeon at Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Group in Santa Monica, Calif. “We’re trying to seek the best formula, the best cocktail, for the athlete to make them better, quicker and more efficient in what we’re doing. We do it all the time, and we think it’s a very important area, especially when we’re dealing with the elite athletes.”
Stem-cell treatment is increasingly popular among NFL players — Sports Illustrated reported more than 100 players have tried the surgery in the past few years — but the use of such therapy is limited in the United States, and there remains a question about how much stem-cell treatments taken from a person’s bone marrow actually help.
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“Many of the studies have shown a positive effect, but not all of the studies,” Mandelbaum said. “The stem-cell research on ACL reconstruction is just in embryonic mode, and we’re just learning some more things at the moment.”
Mandelbaum says the surgery Charles described is similar to the kind of procedures he has performed on athletes, himself, and noted that there’s a belief that there’s limited risk in trying the treatment, which makes the potential payoff — a graft that’s going to heal quicker, stronger and better — worth it.
“At this point, there don’t seem to be (risks),” Mandelbaum said. “The (treatments) seem to be safe, and they’re well-tolerated.”
Shortly after Charles injured the knee during an early October loss to the Chicago Bears, he underwent an operation by noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who also repaired the torn ACL that Charles suffered four years ago.
Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson is one notable example of a player who has had stem-cell treatment under Andrews’ supervision. Johnson, who had a torn meniscus, hoped the procedure in 2014 would lead to improved healing and cartilage growth.
Johnson rushed 155 times for 663 yards (an average of 4.3 yards per carry) in 2014, and rushed 196 times for 814 yards (an average of 4.2 yards) before a knee injury has kept him out for multiple weeks.
Charles says his goal is to return in time for the 2016 regular season, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid indicated Friday that Charles is on track to do just that.
“I know he’s doing good in his rehab, that’s what they tell me,” Reid said. “I’ve seen him here and he’s working his tail off.”