Stem Cell Treatment: Out from the Shadows, Onto the Cutting Edge

The Jets’ Chris Johnson is one of hundreds of NFL players who’ve turned to stem cells to aid in recovery from injury. It may be the next big breakthrough in the treatment of sports ailments, but for now the use of such therapy is strictly limited in the U.S.—and questions about effectiveness outweigh the answers.

He’s 28. He has five 1,000-yard NFL rushing seasons to his name, one 2,000-yarder and a burning desire to prove he’s the same speedster he’s always been. So when Chris Johnson visited orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in January to fix his ailing left knee, he liked the sound of two intriguing words: Stem cells.

The veteran running back tore the meniscus in that knee in Week 3 of the 2013 season—his last with the Titans before being cut—but never missed a game. The injury to the knee’s natural shock absorber also caused other damage in the joint, and Andrews presented an option that might augment what surgery alone could do. The plan: Take stem cells, the body’s universal building blocks, and deliver them directly to the construction site.

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