Today, Takashi Saito is a pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2008, he was a closer for the L.A. Dodgers and staged a pretty miraculous comeback after suffering a major injury. During the 2008 season, Saito partially tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Team trainers gave him a mere 20% chance of returning that season. To improve his odds, Saito agreed to a procedure that until that time, was believed to have never been performed on a MLB pitcher, PRP Therapy. This form of treatment allowed him to forgo Tommy John surgery, the conventional treatment for this type of injury, which would have required nine months to a year of rehabilitation. Nearing 40 years of age, Saito wanted to avoid sitting out an entire year. “I was willing to do anything,” Saito said. “The only promise they made me is that it wouldn’t make it worse. That was enough for me.”
Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) uses the platelets in a person’s blood to speed up the healing process. Platelets are removed from blood using a centrifuge machine. They are then injected into the injured area. In this case, it was Saito’s elbow. The concentrated platelets release growth factors which help spur accelerated healing. The process is simple and straight forward. Healing occurs without the need for surgery or other invasive procedures.
PRP Therapy is considered cutting-edge and though it isn’t yet considered a conventional form of treatment, is pretty popular amongst top athletes. Well known athletes in the sport of professional golf (Tiger Woods), football (Hines Ward and Polamalu) and baseball (Alex Rodriguez) have used it to accelerate healing after serious injury. Because of the success that the aforementioned and other athletes have had, there has been surge in requests for the procedure by both professional athletes and weekend warriors. Studies and anecdotal evidence have shown that PRP Therapy an effective way to treat injuries to tendons, muscles and ligaments.
Saito underwent PRP therapy within a week after injuring his elbow. Blood was drawn from his body and the platelets removed. They were injected into the site of the injury, his elbow, in concentrated form. This was the first time Dr. Neal El-Attrache had used the procedure to treat a ligament. He had, however, used it in the past to treat injured tendons. The procedure was a success and Saito ended up returning to the mound 9 to 12 months ahead of schedule. At 38 years old, Saito didn’t have a lot of time left and so the being able to avoid sitting out and rehabbing for a year was extremely beneficial.
Takashi Saito did make it back for the 2008 season, which was considered pretty miraculous considering the extent of his injury and the fact that he used an unconventional, semi-experimental method to repair his elbow. The Dodger’s team physician, Dr. Neal El-Attrache can’t definitively say that PRP therapy is what allowed Saito to forgo the Tommy John surgery and get back on the pitching mound, when few people thought he would. There, however, is an assumption that it was, at least in part. Saito certainly believes that it did.