Professional baseball gets a few months off for the annual holiday season that starts with Halloween and concludes with New Year’s Day. And while most of us see this time of year as the beginning of winter, it is PRP season for baseball players. Scores of players will undergo platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments between now and the start of spring training in late February.
Among the players being treated this year is Miami Marlins pitcher Wei-Yin Chen. The Taiwanese pitcher, who has been in Major League Baseball since 2012, has a history of elbow problems over the last several years. During the 2016 season he struggled through 22 starts while suffering from pain and stiffness in his throwing elbow. Unfortunately, 2017 was not any better.
The good news for both Chen and the Marlins is that he will not have to undergo Tommy John surgery. Chen was evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon at the conclusion of the season and found to be a good candidate for PRP injections. The Marlins announced in late September that Chen would indeed participate in PRP treatments with the goal of being ready to go in February.
From Starter to Shutdown
Chen is by no means unique. Plenty of other baseball players, pitchers in particular, have looked to PRP treatments as a way to avoid surgery. Baseball players are naturally fearful of surgery because it can be career-ending. Even when it is not, rehabbing from surgery is often complicated. Some players never return to pre-surgical form.
Undergoing PRP treatment is seen as a way to help Chen’s sore elbow heal without risking his career. At the start of the 2017 campaign, the 32-year-old pitcher was set to be the anchor of the Marlins pitching staff. A sore left elbow sent him to the disabled list in early May; he came off the disabled list in early September only to be relegated to the bullpen. The Marlins shut him down on September 22 after Chen complained that his elbow did not feel right.
Doctors expect that PRP treatments will help alleviate inflammation in Chen’s elbow. If they are correct, Chen should be able to begin throwing within a couple of months and, hopefully, be ready to go full tilt when spring training opens. Marlins manager Don Mattingly is hopefully optimistic. We will see if Chen can make the transition from shutdown back to starter after PRP treatments.
Basics of PRP Therapy
The science behind PRP therapy is fairly simple according to Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), a Utah company that trains doctors in using PRP therapy and other regenerative medicine procedures. They explained that inflammation is a normal part of the healing process that tells the body there is an injury that needs to be dealt with. Under normal circumstances, the body responds by sending stem cells, nutrients, and other materials to the injury site.
With that said, PRP therapy does not necessarily alleviate inflammation by itself. Rather, the growth factors in PRP enhance the signaling function of inflammation by telling the body that it needs to get busy fixing damaged tissue. PRP also signals the body to send stem cells to the affected region. Those stem cells can then get to work repairing damaged tissue. As the tissue is repaired, swelling subsides.
There is no shortage of professional baseball pitchers who have successfully avoided Tommy John surgery through PRP injections. A sizable number of pitchers will be getting injections this winter. For the sake of Chen and the Miami Marlins, let’s hope the treatments get him back on the field.