Home >  Blog >  Could Bobby Orr's Legendary Career Have Been Saved by Stem Cell Treatment?

Could Bobby Orr's Legendary Career Have Been Saved by Stem Cell Treatment?

Posted by Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES on 28 June 2017
Could Bobby Orr's Legendary Career Have Been Saved by Stem Cell Treatment?

Bobby Orr is heralded as the best defenceman in the National Hockey League's history, but due to a ravaged knee, he only played in 12 NHL seasons - and only 26 games in his final three years.

It's left hockey's most diehard fans with the lingering question of, "what if Bobby Orr had access to modern medicine?"

But we'll take this debate deeper: what if he had access to stem cell regeneration therapy?

How the Medicine of Yesteryear let Bobby Orr Down

Orr's speed and puck carrying revolutionized his position. He set multiple records for points scored by a defenseman. In a grittier, more punishing era of hockey, he was constantly being hit, and the wear-and-tear plus traumatic injuries to his knee put Orr under the knife 12 separate times in his career.

In the 60s and 70s, exploratory surgery required a deep cut into the knee to take a look - not the small, harmless incision credited to modern orthopedics. Orr's surgeries themselves became the root of the problem, removing the cartilage between his knees, leaving bone rubbing on bone with residual scar tissue that left him in excruciating pain.

Could Stem Cells Have Saved a Torn ACL?

Pro athletes on the cutting edge of expedited injury recovery, such as Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant, have incorporated stem cell regeneration and platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection therapy into their rehabilitation processes. So, we're wondering if the treatments helping the new breed could have strengthened the old guard.

The medical technology in his playing days clumsily classifies Orr's issues as "knee problems". There isn't much information differentiating whether he had ACL, MCL, or meniscus injuries, other than the murmurs of the masses.

That knowledge would be useful, because studies are showing when stem cells arrive to rebuild the knee after a torn ACL, they get stuck, and can't get through the thick membrane that surrounds the knee joint. Therefore, Mr. Orr would have still had to rely on a skilled orthopedic surgeon had he torn his ACL.

Could Stem Cells Have Saved a Torn Meniscus?

With sheep as test subjects, scientists embarked on another chapter of stem cell research.

Using biodegradable plastic found in surgical sutures to 3D-print a model meniscus, the stem cell researchers loaded the replica with proteins. The proteins work like magnets for stem cells, drawing them to the cell from bone marrow. The models were also loaded with growth factors, encouraging the stem cells' development into collagens and fibers that make up cartilage.

After attaching the devices to the uninjured part of the meniscus in seven sheep, the stem cells grew a new, healthy patch of tissue.

Had Orr been 40 years younger and required meniscus tear treatments in 2017, his career might have been saved, since sheep have knee joints that are very similar to human knees.

Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy Could Help Orr Now

As a player agent and all around busy man, Orr has to focus on the here and now. As a chronic sufferer of osteoarthritischaracterized by the protective cartilage on the ends of bones wearing down over time - we already know he could benefit from platelet rich plasma therapy (PRP).

PRP injection therapy's healing properties found in the extracted platelets will diminish further inflammation when injected into the knee, and stimulate healing while slowing down anymore cartilage degeneration. Orr's day-to-day living would improve drastically and he likely wouldn't need to go under the knife again.

How About ACI Treatments?

The Canadian hockey legend could potentially benefit from an osteoarthritis treatment being used to replace cartilage between joints called autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI). It's a two-stage operation treating articular cartilage defects of the knee that are down to the bone:

Stage one:

  • 30-minute arthroscopic procedure.
  • A tic-tac sized piece of articular cartilage is harvested from the patient's knee.
  • Biopsy is sent away and enzymatically treated, isolating chondrocytes, which are cartilage-producing cells of the body.
  • Once extracted, chondrocytes are multiplied and sent back to the surgeon in 6-to-8 weeks for implantation.

Stage two:

  • An open procedure where a small patch is sewn over the articular cartilage defect.
  • The expanded chondrocytes are injected underneath the patch.
  • They adhere to the patient's knee to form a hyaline-like cartilage, resembling the native joint cartilage.
  • 8-week period of restricted weight-bearing, followed by a specific rehab program to follow for around 9 months.

ACI surgery reportedly has an 85% pain-free success rate. With those kind of results, maybe Bobby could consider a return to the ice at the tender age of 69...okay, maybe not.

Skating to a Conclusion

ACI treatments are making waves, and are positively impacting the quality of life of chronic osteoarthritic pain sufferers. But chances are, Bobby Orr's double digits amount of orthopedic surgeries would make him think twice before undergoing ACI treatments. After all, that's two more times under the knife, and another 9 months in rehab!

Something tells us that Mr. Orr isn't alone in wanting to avoid surgery!

Luckily, PRP treatments could give the legendary Hall of Famer (and many others) surgery-free relief, since it'd only require a 20-60cc injection of his own blood, and a minimal recovery process.

There's no real way of knowing if the advancement of stem cell treatments could have extended the career of the NHL's greatest defender. But we do know that as much as the old-timers like to bang on about "their day" being better, the athletes of today have access to the most advanced medical treatments - including stem cell and PRP injection therapy - contributing to longer careers.

You don't have to be the greatest hockey player of all time to treat your nagging injuries through RegenerVate's regenerative medicines and injection therapy.

From osteoarthritis to tendon, muscle, or meniscal tears, RegenerVate's injection therapy treatments utilize your body's own natural healing ability to accelerate the recovery process. Call us today at 1-855-712-9901 to schedule an appointment, or drop by one of our RegenerVate locations!

Author: Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES
About: Dr. Stoddard is a sport medicine and injection physician in Toronto and is the Medical Director of RegenerVate. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Toronto, he trained in Australia at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, obtaining his Master Degree in Sport Medicine. His injection training, including ultrasound, PRP and Prolotherapy, was primarily done in the USA. He is a diplomat of the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine (CASEM), is married and a proud father of two boys. He is an avid triathlete and occasional guitar player.
Tags: Treatment Options PRP Injections

Request an appointment

Request an appointment

Please tick to verify that you are not a robot


Client Testimonials

Dr. Stoddard, I am running a mile at less than an 8 minute pace now -- just two miles for now....But my hamstring tear feels great!  And I am doing a Body Combat class with tons of kicks and j...

Read All

RegenerVate Clinics


Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI)

2 Sheppard Avenue E
Suite 601
Toronto, ON
M2N 5Y7

Phone: (416) 223-7364 (SEMI)
Fax: (416) 223-8048
Email: sheppard@semisportmed.com


Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI)

8150 Yonge St.
Suite 1
Thornhill, ON
L4J 1W5

Phone: 1 855 847-3975
Fax: 905 731-3336
Email: info@regenervate.com


Grand River Sports Medicine Centre

40 George Street North
Cambridge, ON
N1S 2M8

Phone: 519 622-4529
Fax: 519 622-3563
Email: regenervate@grsm.ca


Richmond Medical Clinic

150-7997 Westminster HWY
Richmond, BC
V6X 1A4

Phone: 604 862-9998
Fax: 778 297-4800 (Attn. Dr. Romashin)
Email: stanislav.romashin@regenervate.com



North American Toll Free:
1 855 847-3975

Head office: 601-2 Sheppard Ave E, Toronto, ON. M2N5Y7
e: info@regenervate.com