plasma irradiation

The Achilles tendon of a rat is irradiated with non-thermal atmospheric-pressure plasma. (CREDIT: Osaka Metropolitan University)

OSAKA, Japan — If you’ve ever suffered from an Achilles tendon injury, you know how frustrating and debilitating it can be. Even for professional athletes like NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there’s no quick way back to the field following Achilles surgery. However, a groundbreaking new procedure may change all that. Using cutting-edge technology that irradiates the tendon with plasma, researchers believe they can finally speed up the healing process of this devastating injury.

What exactly makes an Achilles injury so hard to recover from? This thick cord-like tendon at the back of your ankle is responsible for connecting your calf muscle to your heel bone, and it plays a crucial role in activities like walking, running, and jumping. According to StudyFinds’ Dr. Faith Coleman, it’s possible to let this injury heal on its own, but the results aren’t always promising.

Historically, conservative management has shown a higher re-rupture rate when compared to surgical interventions. Simply put, if you let it heal on its own, there’s a higher risk that the Achilles will tear again. At the same time, undergoing surgery still keeps patients out of action for several months. In fact, Dr. Coleman notes that rehab only starts to incorporate high-impact exercises after six months.

Achilles tendon injuries
(© Pepermpron – stock.adobe.com)

Seeking to shorten the recovery time, a research team led by Osaka Metropolitan University Graduate School of Medicine’s Katsumasa Nakazawa, a graduate student in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Associate Professor Hiromitsu Toyoda, and Professor Hiroaki Nakamura, and Graduate School of Engineering Professor Jun-Seok Oh focused on non-thermal atmospheric-pressure plasma (NTAPP) as a treatment method.

NTAPP is a type of ionized gas that contains charged particles like electrons, ions, and radicals. It’s like a virtual cocktail of reactive species that can interact with biological tissues in unique ways. In this study, researchers used a device that generates NTAPP and applied it directly to surgically repaired Achilles tendon injuries in rats.

The results published in the journal PLoS ONE were nothing short of remarkable. Compared to the untreated group, the rats that received the NTAPP treatment showed signs of faster and more efficient tendon healing. Their tendons exhibited more organized and mature collagen fibers (the building blocks of tendons) at an earlier stage, and the transition from weaker type III collagen to stronger type I collagen happened more rapidly.

The NTAPP-treated tendons also demonstrated superior mechanical strength at just two weeks post-surgery, indicating that the healing process wasn’t just cosmetic – the tendons were actually regaining their functional integrity faster.

So, what’s the secret behind this plasma power? According to the researchers, the reactive particles in NTAPP may stimulate cell proliferation, migration, and the production of growth factors that are crucial for tendon repair. It’s like giving the healing process a much-needed boost.

While this study was conducted on rats, the authors believe that NTAPP treatment could potentially be used as an adjunct therapy for human Achilles tendon injuries, helping patients recover more quickly and get back to their active lifestyles sooner.

Of course, more research is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms behind this plasma-powered healing and to ensure its safety and effectiveness in humans. But for now, this study offers a tantalizing glimpse into the future of tendon injury treatment, where a zap of ionized gas could be the key to a speedier recovery. Conceivably, this procedure could change the prognosis of an Achilles tear being a season-ending injury for pro athletes.

“We have previously discovered that irradiation of non-thermal atmospheric-pressure plasma has the effect of promoting bone regeneration. In this study, we discovered that the technology also promotes tendon regeneration and healing, showing that it has applications for a wide range of fields,” Prof. Toyoda says in a media release. “Combined with current tendon treatments, it is expected to contribute to more reliable tendon regeneration and shorter treatment time.”

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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