As a member of the Emory Sports Medicine team, Destin Hill, MD, spends most of his time treating patients in the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center at Flowery Branch – right next to the Atlanta Falcons Training Camp. But during football season, because Emory Healthcare is the official team healthcare provider of the Atlanta Falcons, he can often be found at Mercedes-Benz Stadium or traveling with the team, providing care for professional football players.
Dr. Hill is a sports medicine physician who specializes in the care of athletes of all ages and a team physician for the Atlanta Falcons. On an episode of The Weekly Checkup, he spoke about injuries all athletes can face, and regenerative medical therapies available at Emory Healthcare’s Orthopaedics & Spine Center.
Caring for Players During a Game
Often, people ask Dr. Hill what it’s like being on the field and treating players during a game. “Four team physicians are at every game,” he says, “Two orthopedic surgeons, and two primary care sports medicine physicians.” Sometimes, cardiologists and neurologists from Emory Healthcare attend the games as well.
If a player may be injured during a game, Hill says, the Falcons’ head athletic trainer and Emory Healthcare’s lead team physician run onto the field. “Those are usually the two guys you see on TV, bending down, talking to players,” he says. “When they come off the field, we divide and conquer – maybe one of us takes the X-ray, or to the blue tent for concussion evaluation, something like that.”
After treating pro athletes for more than a decade, Hill says he’s seen how the NFL’s changes have made a difference to the players. “The NFL’s data has shown that there are less concussions occurring in the average NFL game than before,” he says. He also explained that new guardian caps helped reduce concussions. “So, another way the NFL’s trying to help protect the players by [them] wearing this active extra protection on the helmets.”
Go Where the Players Go
Dr. Hill estimates that 90% of his time is actually spent treating patients who aren’t professional athletes – and who have a variety of conditions or injuries. And at Emory Healthcare, the latest technology and innovative research is a part of making sure every patient receives expert care and new treatment options. For some orthopedic conditions, new research in regenerative medicine therapy might offer some patients pain relief – and one day, maybe more.
One condition that can benefit from regenerative medicine therapy is osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated 58.5 million adults in the U.S.
Osteoarthritis and Regenerative Medicine Therapy
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and its symptoms often affect the fingers, knees, and hips. In 2012, physicians at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center were among Atlanta’s first health care providers to begin offering regenerative stem cell therapy, a treatment for osteoarthritis and related joint issues. This treatment harnesses the ability of a patient’s own stem cells to repair damaged tissue, reduce pain, and promote healing.
“Regenerative medicine is in the infancy stage in orthopedics,” says Hill. “We are doing lots of research trying to figure out exactly what it is and what it can become. The hope is that one day you may have a muscle tear or knee arthritis or something and you can put some of your own stem cells in there, and that fixes the problem for you – repairs the tendon, heals up your cartilage or your bones.”
Physicians at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta are among a select group of physicians around the country to offer stem cell therapy and other regenerative medical therapies for the relief of osteoarthritis pain and chronic tendonitis. These types of treatments are typically used for painful joints for patients who have moderate osteoarthritis in the hip, knee, shoulder, ankle, or thumb and it is not just available only to athletes. These injections provide a non-surgical treatment option for long-lasting relief from chronic joint pain. Emory Healthcare also sometimes treats soft tissue injuries such as tears or severe tendinosis–which is caused by chronic overuse of a tendon–with stem cell therapy.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Stem cell therapy can be a treatment option for many patients with osteoarthritis. Stem cell therapy is a unique non-surgical procedure using the patient’s own stem cells and growth factors that may help repair damaged tissue, reduce pain, and promote healing. “Stem cells can be extracted from bone marrow, body fat, and amnio products. At Emory, the physicians practice from the patient’s own cells, which is either from their bone marrow or from their fat,” says Dr. Hill. This is a two-step procedure; a) harvesting of stem cells and b) either the bone marrow or fat is removed and collected to inject them into the patient. Overall, 75-80% of Emory’s patients have had significant pain relief and improved function of the joint following the procedure.
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy
Another type of regenerative medicine Emory Healthcare provides is called Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy, which is commonly used to treat athletes. PRP therapy is a safe, non-surgical procedure that offers pain relief to athletes who endure chronic pain from tendon injuries. PRP therapy uses platelets from the athlete’s blood to rebuild a damaged tendon. “The patient’s blood is drawn and placed in a centrifuge where the blood is spun down into different layers separating the platelets. Then, the platelet-rich plasma is injected into the injured part of the tendon with the guidance of an ultrasound machine,” says Dr. Hill. PRP therapy has been successful in relieving the pain within the three months after the healing process has started.
Physicians at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center like Dr. Hill provide lots of care to athletes as well as general patients. The innovative research done at Emory can benefit professional athletes along with patients with osteoarthritis and sports injuries. To learn more about your condition and the treatment options, visit emoryhealthcare.org.
About Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center
Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center constitutes over 90 musculoskeletal physicians; the team is supported by athletic trainers and therapists helping to care for the most professional, elite, and collegiate athletes in Georgia – serving as the Official Team Healthcare Providers for the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Dream.