Put Me in Coach! (I Just Got a Stem Cell Injection)

Superstar athletes go public with their attempts to heal faster via stem cell treatment, and that concerns wary physicians.

Many professional athletes swear by stem cell injections as a way of recovering faster from injury. The only problem is that the medical community has major doubts that the treatments work, as Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports.

“It’s extremely good PR for the people selling this kind of thing,” James Rickert, MD, president of the Society for Patient Centered Orthopedics, tells KHN. “But there’s no question that this is an unproven treatment.”

The article starts with baseball pitching superstar Max Scherzer’s recent disclosure about getting stem cell injections for an injury but includes an impressive list of other athletes who’ve done the same, including Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, Gordie Howe, Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning.

But the athletes probably would have healed at the same speed if they’d done nothing. “There’s really not much evidence that it’s going to help him, other than as a psychological boost or as a placebo effect,” Paul Knoepfler, a professor in the department of cell biology and human anatomy at the University of California–Davis, tells KHN.

Not that the placebo effect should be totally discounted. Its value might go beyond just the psychological, as the New Yorker once reported.

But the injections are costly, and experts worry that fans might spend a lot money to follow the example of their sports heroes. “These are the richest, most highly paid athletes around,” Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine, tells KHN. “So anything you can think of, they’re getting. But I wouldn’t use them as a role model for how to treat injuries.”