Despite claims in the media from bloggers, medical school professors and doctors alike that stem cell therapy doesn’t work and is not proven, this therapy is becoming recognized as a legitimate treatment option for a variety of conditions, especially orthopedic conditions. This is highly attractive to anyone with a musculoskeletal injury that hasn’t been resolved with conventional medicine and is even more attractive to professional athletes with injuries who must perform at the highest level.
Numerous professional athletes from all over the World have turned to stem cell therapy injections in order to heal injuries, recover quicker and or avoid surgery. In April 2016, the British newspaper, The Sun, reported that Cristiano Ronaldo, who is regarded as one of the best soccer players in the World, received stem cell therapy injection for a knee injury. It is reported that Ronaldo opted for this treatment due to Rafael Nadal, one of the top tennis players in the world, who reported successful results after having the same therapy for his knee in 2013. Other professional athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods have also reportedly received stem cell therapy but these are just a few notable mentions. See below for a more complete list of athletes who have reportedly received stem cell therapy treatment.
Although professional athletes have sought this treatment in order to improve their health and performance, there is some concern over the publicity it creates in the media. In a 2019 Washington Post article entitled “Superstar athletes popularize unproven stem cell procedures”, James Rickert, president of the Society for Patient Centered Orthopedics, remarked “It sends a signal to all the fans out there that stem cells have more value than they really do.” He went on to say that “It’s extremely good PR for the people selling this kind of thing. But there’s no question that this is an unproven treatment.”
In the same Washington Post article, Paul Knoepfler, a professor of cell biology and human anatomy at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine mirrored Rickert’s sentiment and stated “Yet for all the hype, there’s no proof it works.”
Unapproved vs unproven? There is a significant difference between stem cell therapy being an unapproved therapy and claims that it is an unproven therapy. Stem cell therapy is approved by the FDA for only a small number of conditions, mostly cancer related, using specific types of stem cells. For more information on FDA regulation of stem cell therapy please see FDA Regulations, Comments and Concerns.
This means that the vast majority of stem cell therapies being offered across the country in some of the top institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and others are not FDA approved. However, this doesn’t mean that the clinical benefits of stem cell therapy are not proven. Stem cell therapy injections have been extensively research for orthopedic conditions. The research demonstrates that stem cell therapy is safe, well-tolerated and has numerous clinical benefits in orthopedic medicine including cartilage regeneration, reduced pain, improved range of motion, improved function and many others. For more information on current stem cell research in orthopedic medicine please visit our Research Archive.
Unfortunately, a number of websites and online articles provide a biased and incomplete view of stem cell therapy. Biased articles often cite the lack of FDA approval for many treatments using stem cell therapy, highlight incidences of the most serious and rare side effects, report examples of unsuccessful results, and claim that stem cell therapy is unproven without mention of data from clinical research. Reports of professional athletes who have received stem cell therapy is not an exception as this is anecdotal evidence and may or may not reflect data from research. The public is unfortunately caught in the crossfire between the biased conjecture and hearsay reported by such articles and websites, and the published scientific data from human clinical trials that is often not in mainstream media.
Stem cell therapy is a promising field in regenerative medicine, but simply because your friend, someone you know or a professional athlete you like received it doesn’t automatically mean you should too. In general sports fans shouldn’t expect to have the same results from stem cell therapy or any other medical treatment that a professional athlete has. Perhaps a better approach is to familiarize yourself with the research, discuss it with your family, discuss it with your doctor and make the best decision for yourself and your body. Stem cells can’t fix and repair every musculoskeletal injury but human clinical trials clearly demonstrate their safety and efficacy in orthopedic medicine.
A list of professional athletes who have reportedly received stem cell therapy for musculoskeletal injuries:
- Garret Richards, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres received stem cell therapy injection to prevent needing Tommy John surgery, a common surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow.
- In 2016, a British newspaper reported that Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best soccer players in the world, received stem cell therapy injection for a knee injury.
- In 2013, Rafael Nadal, one of the top tennis players in the world, received stem cell therapy for his knee pain and then later for his back pain.
- Kobe Bryant, one of the best basketball players in the world, received stem cell therapy in 2013 in Germany for his knee pain.
- Bartolo Colon, a form major league baseball pitcher received stem cell therapy injections into his pitching elbow and shoulder to help repair damage to ligaments and a rotator cuff tear.
- C.J. Nitkowski, a form major league baseball pitcher decided to have stem cell therapy injection in 2011 for injury to his pitching shoulder. It is reported that Nitkowski used stem cell therapy injections over the past 10 years to stay in the major leagues.
- NFL player, Jarvis Green received bone marrow derived stem cell therapy for his knees in 2013 after complications and long recovery periods after two previous knee surgeries.
- Knowshon Moreno, a NFL player, also received stem cell therapy treatment for his knees in 2013.
- Seattle Seahawks’ Sidney Rice went to Switzerland for stem cell therapy treatment for his knees.
- Adrian Clayborn, a defensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons underwent knee surgery for a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) and had stem
- Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles underwent knee surgery and had bone marrow derived stem cell therapy treatment.
- After two years of knee pain, Rolando McClain of the Oakland Raiders received adipose derived stem cell therapy treatment in his knees.
- Another Oakland Raider, Aaron Curry also received stem cell therapy treatment for his knee injuries.
- Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers received both platelet rich plasma and stem cell therapy treatment for his long term knee pain and swelling.
- Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers went to Germany to receive stem cell therapy treatment for degeneration of his knees.
- Pau Gasol of the San Antonio Spurs had a stem cell therapy treatment on his knee to improve degenerated tissue and to avoid surgery.
- New York Jets’ running back, Chris Johnson received bone marrow derived stem cell therapy treatment for a meniscus injury on his left knee.
- Former Cincinnati Bengals player, Terrel Owens went to South Korea to receive a bone marrow derived stem cell therapy treatment for an ACL injury.
- Pittsburgh Steelers Marquis Maze received stem cell therapy for a muscle injury and damaged joints.
- Pitcher of the Los Angeles Angels, Andrew Heaney revealed in 2016 that he received stem cell therapy treatment to help his recovery after having a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
- In 2011, regretting the foot surgery he had the previous from two fractures, Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants decided to receive stem cell therapy treatment. In 2012 he had the screws in his foot removed and played for the rest of the season.
- Prince Amukamara of the New York Giants received a bone marrow derived stem cell therapy treatment after sustaining a broken bone in his left foot during training camp.
- Olympic Athlete David Payne received stem cell therapy treatment with PRP after suffering from a shin injury while training for the Olympic trials in 2011.
- Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis went to a clinic in Europe to receive stem cell therapy treatment on his triceps muscle.
- Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts traveled to Germany to receive adipose derived stem cell therapy for a neck related injury.
- Former NHL star Gordie Howe received stem cell therapy after suffering a number of small strokes in 2014 that left his right side paralyzed. Within days he started exhibiting results.
- Golf legend Jack Nicklaus traveled to Germany to receive adipose derived stem cell therapy for chronic joint pain and inflammation.
- Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Washington Nationals received stem cell therapy treatment for muscle injury in this thumb, shoulder, and back.
- Argentinian soccer player Angel Di Maria underwent stem cell therapy for a torn right hamstring injury he sustained during the 2014 world cup semi-final against Belgium.
cell therapy treatment to improve his recovery.