Have a nagging pain in your Achilles tendon, calf, or hamstring that’s not “listening” to the anti-inflammatory that used to work?
Sometimes knowing about cutting-edge research can bolster your hopes and ultimately point you in the direction of treatments that alleviate your pains.
Many runners these days are baby boomers, vigorous but older. According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more and more older adults are showing up in emergency rooms with chronic, sports-related injuries: those nagging pains that are just not going away on their own.
If you have one of those pains, know that scientists are researching new techniques to help treat the many chronic injuries of older athletes. Check out an excellent article in the Boston Globe today on some of the latest research on new techniques to help aging bodies address injuries.
Two new techniques the Globe article highlights are ones to follow. One, called PRP or platelet-rich plasma therapy, aims to help the body use its own healing powers to speed recovery.
What, in lay person’s terms, is PRP? It’s a process that involves a) removing a small amount of a patient’s blood b) spinning it in a centrifuge for about 15 minutes to separate the red blood cells from the platelets – types of cells that contain growth factors that can help the body heal itself and c) injecting the platelet-rich portion of the patient’s blood is injected in or around a damaged tendon, muscle or cartilage to encourage the growth of new tissue.
While PRP is being tested and is still considered unproven (and it’s expensive, costing $750 per round of injections), it has been proven effective for healing chronic injuries in individuals. (Oral and plastic surgeons have used PRP for more than two decades to improve healing.)
Another technique to help older athletes – one which US researchers are still studying for safety purposes but which is used widely by older adults in Japan – is to rebuild atrophied muscles with a blood-flow restriction exercise. That uses a tightened cuff, similar to one used to take a blood pressure reading, which is briefly wrapped around an arm or leg during weight lifting exercises. The idea is that the cuff allows blood flow into the working muscle, while restricting blood flow back to the heart. This appears to trigger the stimulation of a protein responsible for building muscle. (The protein is activated in younger bodies during weight lifting, but becomes sluggish as we age.)
Blake Rasmussen, a professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch, has conducted studies with the technique in younger and older adults. After three hours of exercise, 70-year-olds who had used the cuff had the same activity levels of this protein as 18- to 35-year-olds. While Rasmussen has said that much larger, controlled studies are needed before the Kaatsu approach is widely adopted in the U.S., the American College of Sports Medicine has appointed a committee to spur further research on it.