Newly acquired 76ers center Andrew Bynum has yet to make his on-court debut in Philadelphia, but he’s been the hottest topic around Doug Collins’ team this preseason.
Bynum traveled to Germany last month for a procedure known as Orthokine that is becoming all the rage amongst professional athletes. The procedure, not yet approved in the United States, is similar to more familiar platelet-rich plasma therapies used here at home. Orthokine targets inflammation and is considered to be among the least invasive knee treatments available. Such stars as Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez rave about the effects Orthokine has had on their careers.
Barry Kenneally, M.D., is a non-surgical sports medicine physician at the Rothman Institute. He spoke to Sports Doc about Orthokine and its potential effects.
How does this procedure take place?
Dr. Kenneally: Blood is drawn from the patient—about two ounces. The blood is then spun in a centrifuge with glass beads and incubated at body temperature. The heating of the blood is one of the main differences from platelet-rich plasma therapy. The spinning serves to separate the blood into layers, and the plasma-rich layer is then injected back into the knee.
How long does the procedure take?
The blood is separated into six separate injections, which are performed twice a week. So in total, you’re looking at about a three-week process. It is possible to speed the process along, with less time between injections, if necessary.
What makes this technique so effective?
A protein has been identified within that layer of blood that works against another, damaging protein called interleukin-1, or IL-1.
What is the typical recovery time?
There isn’t really an expected recovery time from the procedure itself—patients usually rest throughout the injection process, and for a few days after it’s complete.
Why Germany? Why haven’t they made Orthokine available in the U.S.?
The doctor who developed the procedure (Dr. Peter Wehling, a surgeon in Dusseldorf) is German. The FDA takes time with [approval of] these procedures, and the answer is that the procedure is still relatively new and the research is in progress.
How long has this procedure been available?
Dr. Kenneally: Approximately 10 years.
What are the benefits to this procedure? Are they short-term or long-term?
For now, they’re short-term. Studies have proven the effectiveness of this procedure in offering short-term relief from osteoarthritis, but that was over a two-year period. Obviously, with this procedure being so new, its effectiveness over the long term remains to be seen—but that research is ongoing as we speak.
Could an athlete choose to undergo this procedure several times throughout a career?
Absolutely—it’s similar to other injections in that way. I would say this could be done every 1-2 years.
We know about the procedure due to prominent athletes—is it effective for recreational or casual athletes?
Yes, but it’s not cheap. The procedure costs about $6-7,000, on average.