No, Phil Mickelson’s strongest opponent isn’t Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods. Instead, it’s one he has to contend with both on and off the links: Psoriatic arthritis. What is psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and what can beat it? Keep reading to learn more!
Unlike the more common osteoarthritis, which is brought on by the wear-and-tear associated with aging, PsA is genetic, though it’s not clear exactly what triggers its onset. Sometimes it is accompanied by psoriasis (the rash caused when skin rapidly grows extra layers), but it’s not always outwardly visible. Roughly one million Americans are afflicted with PsA.
In Mickelson’s case, PsA caught him by surprise. He was preparing for the 2010 US Open when his joints began aching — he has described the sensation as feeling like he had simultaneously sprained a wrist, jammed a finger on his other hand, and twisted an ankle. Mickelson hadn’t done anything to rack up those seeming injuries, so he assumed it was just his years of playing and training catching up with him. After all, he was only 39 years old and a pro athlete; hardly the type of person you’d imagine being waylaid by an “old age” disease like arthritis.
Two days before the Masters though, Mickelson woke up and was in so much pain that he couldn’t walk. He now had burning pain in virtually all of his joints. With his family’s encouragement, he visited a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic. Mickelson went on to play in the tournament (finishing fourth); the next week, when his lab results came in, he learned he had PsA.
PsA can’t be cured, but it can be treated. In Mickelson’s case, because his onset was so sudden and severe, his physicians opted to bypass commonly prescribed drugs that are often used to treat the disease and put him on a new (at the time) drug called Enbrel (Etanercept). Mickelson got relief from his symptoms, and has since become an Enbrel spokesperson, appearing in their commercials and featuring the company on his educational PsA and joint pain website.
Many people are hesitant to use a drug like Enbrel, however—something you may have noticed about the Mickelson ads is how long it takes to list its many side effects. As of May 2008, the FDA has added a “black box” warning to the drug’s packaging because of a serious risk of infections associated with the drug. Enbrel works by interfering with tumor necrosis factor, which is part of the body’s immune response to infection. Autoimmune diseases like PsA occur because the body has an overactive immune response. But interfering with that response also opens the potential for the drug to become an immunosuppressant; if your body isn’t able to create what it needs in order to defend itself, preexisting conditions can worsen and people can be susceptible to new infections.
That said, suffering from the pain of PsA isn’t easy, whether you’re trying to get back on the golf course or you just want to get out of bed. If you’re not sure that a drug is right for you, regenerative medicine may be able to provide you with an alternative course of action. With regenerative medicine, your body’s own cells are used to help encourage healing. In the case of PsA and other forms of arthritis, injections done directly into the affected joints can help relieve pain, decrease inflammation, and encourage healing.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections is one of the kinds of regenerative therapy offered at the Spine Institute Northwest that could help with arthritic join pain. Platelets are the cells in your blood that help your body to initiate the repair process when you are injured; they clot to prevent further bleeding and create the foundation for new tissue. Platelets also release growth factors that attract the stem cells necessary to create new tissue and begin the healing process. In PRP, a sample of your own blood is drawn, and a centrifuge is used to separate out and concentrate the platelets. The resulting PRP is injected right into the area needing repair (for example, into the knee or wrist joint). It can take a few weeks to notice improvement, because tissue regeneration takes time, but when healthy tissue has taken hold the benefits can be long lasting.
Another type of regenerative therapy that can be used to stimulate natural healing is stem cell therapy. Again, cells are harvested directly from your own body (usually from either bone marrow or fat). Everybody has stem cells throughout their bodies, but when we get older or accumulate a large amount of injuries (as when a disease like PsA affects many joints), our body doesn’t always have enough stem cells to handle the job. Stem cells are jacks-of-all-trades: Whatever the job, they can do it, transforming into and replacing injured cells. They just need to be able to get to the job! In research on joint damage, stem cells harvested from bone and injected into the injured joint have shown considerable promise, encouraging the growth of healthy cartilage and relieving pain. Stem cell therapy presents another alternative way of dealing with PsA.
Have you been diagnosed with PsA or another form of arthritis? Make sure you know about all of your treatment options! If you’d like to learn more about how regenerative treatments may be able to relieve your symptoms, call the Spine Institute Northwest at 206-496-0630!