We tend to think of arthritis as a disease of old age, brought on by wear-and-tear on our joints that accumulates over time. In reality though, that’s only true of some forms of the disease, such as osteoarthritis. Other kinds of arthritis can take effect when you’re still quite young, and have different causes — though they’re just as painful.
American professional golfer Phil Mickelson learned this the hard way. While the then-39-year-old was preparing for the 2010 US Open, his joints began aching. Though he felt pain in disparate parts of his body — hands, ankles — Mickelson initially attributed his discomfort to a lifetime of golfing. Then two days before the Masters, Mickelson woke up in so much pain that he couldn’t get out of bed or walk. With intense, dry, burning pain in virtually all of his joints, the golfer visited a rheumatologist. When his lab results came in, Mickelson learned he had psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
PsA is genetic, though it’s not clear exactly what triggers its onset. Roughly one-third of people who have psoriasis (the rash caused when skin rapidly grows extra layers) will develop PsA, but some people who develop PsA don’t have outwardly visible symptoms. While the disease cannot be cured, PsA can be treated. Due to the sudden and severe onset of his symptoms, Mickelson’s doctors chose to skip more conservative treatments and prescribed the drug Enbrel (Etanercept). The drug worked for Mickelson, who has since become an Enbrel spokesperson, appearing in their U.S. commercials and featuring the company on his educational PsA and joint pain website.
The pain from PsA can be debilitating, whether you’re trying to get back on the golf course or you just want to get out of bed. Despite this, many patients are hesitant to use Enbrel. Health Canada has issued several advisories about adverse events that have occurred with the drug, and in the U.S. the FDA has added a “black box” warning to the drug’s packaging. Autoimmune diseases like PsA come about because the body’s immune response is overaggressive. Enbrel works by interfering with immune response, specifically with a cytokine called tumor necrosis factor. When it is effective, the drug can ‘check’ the body’s level of immune response. What regulatory agencies and researchers have found, however, is that by interfering with immune response, Enbrel can act as an immunosuppressant. When the body isn’t able to properly defend itself, risks of new infections and problems caused by preexisting conditions increase.
If that gives you pause, it’s worthwhile to take the time to research all of the potential treatments for arthritic joint pain. Regenerative medicine is the newest frontier in treating PsA and other forms of arthritis. In regenerative medicine, the body’s own cells — literally, your body’s own cells — are used to help encourage healing. Researchers have found that injections directly into the joints impacted by arthritis have been found can help relieve pain, decrease inflammation, and potentially encourage healing.
One type of regenerative therapy offered at the Spine Institute Northwest is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. Platelets are the cells in your blood that help your body initiate the repair process when you are injured; they’re like the first responders in a crisis. Platelets prevent bleeding by clotting, and release growth factors to attract the stem cells necessary to create new tissue and spur healing. For PRP injections, a sample of your own blood is drawn and put in a centrifuge to separate out and concentrate the platelets. The resulting PRP is injected right into the area needing repair (for example, the shoulder or ankle joint). It can take a few weeks to notice improvement because tissue regeneration takes time, but benefits can be long lasting once healthy tissue has taken hold.
Stem cell therapy is another type of regenerative therapy that can be used to naturally stimulate healing. As with PRP, stem cells are harvested right from your own body, and injected directly at the site of injury. Stem cells can replicate the cells they come into contact with, bolstering the number of healthy cells to help replace injured ones. We all have stem cells throughout our bodies, but when we get older or injuries get overwhelming (for example, when a disease like PsA affects many joints at once), our body doesn’t always have enough stem cells. Stem cell therapy can help get more stem cells where they’re needed most. Research on joint damage has shown that stem cells harvested from bone and injected into the injured joint can encourage the growth of healthy cartilage and relieve pain. If you’re concerned about the potential dangers and side effects of drugs, what better way to stimulate healing than by employing your body’s own natural growth factors?
Arthritis affects approximately 4 million Canadians. If you’re one of them, make sure you know about all of the treatment options that are available for managing your symptoms. To learn more about regenerative therapies from the Spine Institute Northwest, and our concierge service just for Canadian patients, call us today at 888-712-0318!