Regenerative orthopedic procedures, which harness the body’s natural healing ability, are offering new hope to injured soldiers.

Putting our soldiers first

This technique, termed interventional orthopedics, is minimally invasive and can replace surgery or speed the healing process after surgery—sometimes cutting recovery time from months to just weeks. Because they help damaged tissue regenerate, these procedures are especially beneficial for combat soldiers injured by high-impact explosions, which can cause widespread damage to bones, muscle, tendons and other tissue. Paratroopers can also benefit from these procedures, whose joints are impacted through repeated hard landings, as well as ground troops who sustain orthopedic damage from carrying heavy equipment. In fact, the National Institutes of Health estimates that 65 percent of combat injuries involve orthopedic damage.

The method

One regenerative orthopedic option that holds promise for wounded soldiers is platelet rich plasma (PRP). Platelets are a type of blood cell that are essential in the formation of blood clots, which slow bleeding after injury. Platelets are also a source of growth factors, naturally helping the body with tissue regeneration. To create PRP, a blood sample is taken from the patient and put in a centrifuge, concentrating the platelets in the liquid part of the blood, known as plasma. The PRP is then injected into the injured tissue, leaving only a minor incision in the patient’s skin.
“The National Institutes of Health estimates that 65 percent of combat injuries involve orthopedic damage.”
Stem cells are also used in regenerative orthopedics because of their unique ability to renew themselves and replace or heal other cells. Modern techniques allow physicians to withdraw stem cells from bone marrow, concentrate them in a laboratory and then re-inject them into injured tissue. For a soldier injured with bone fractures, concentrated stem cells can help the body self-heal by stimulating tiny blood cells in the bone tissue, causing the bone to repair itself.

Overcoming the challenges

A growing number of American civilian doctors use interventional orthopedics in sports medicine, physical rehabilitation, interventional spine care, interventional radiology and orthopedic surgery, while many undergo rigorous training and real experience in clinical use of orthobiologics through a one-year fellowship to obtain the necessary training and certification. But, because these cutting-edge techniques are relatively new, they are still considered “experimental” and uncovered by some insurance.
In spite of these challenges, specialists in regenerative interventional orthopedics are optimistic that these techniques create potential to treat a wide range of musculoskeletal injuries—especially those of wounded soldiers who might otherwise face long recovery times, chronic pain and diminished quality of life. Because these regenerative orthopedic procedures are noninvasive, well-tolerated and can be performed in an outpatient setting, it’s only a matter of time before more soldiers can experience faster, fuller recovery from their injuries.