What is Elbow Dysplasia?
Elbow dysplasia (ED) is one of the most common causes of thoracic limb lameness in Labradors and other large and giant breed dogs (1). ED is a term used to describe the presence of one or more developmental conditions involving the elbow joint.
This collective term includes conditions such as medial coronoid disease (MCD), radio-ulnar incongruity, ununited anconeal process (UAP) and osteochondrosis (OCD) (1, 2 ,3 and 4).
These conditions develop in juvenile animals and clinical signs (pain and lameness) are often present at four to six months of age. Many dogs do not present until much later when osteoarthritis (OA) is advanced and lameness is a constant feature.
Techiques for Management
There has been many techniques for both medical and surgical management (arthroscopic treatment, ulnar osteotomies, proximal ulnar osteotomy, distal ulnar osteotomy, Biceps Ulnar release procedure, proximal abducting ulnar osteotomy, sliding humeral osteotomy, canine unicompartment elbow replacement, full elbow replacement and elbow arthrodesis) of ED described in the literature (1 and 5-11). However, irrespective of which medical or surgical intervention is performed, ED will lead to cartilage damage and degenerative osteoarthritis (OA) with time (12 and 13). The only exception to this would be for full elbow replacement but this procedure is not currently recommended due to the high complication rate.
OA leads to a progressive degenerative state within the joint that inevitably leads to chronic pain and loss of limb function. The number of surgical procedures described in the literature shows that not one technique is 100% effective and the multifactorial causes of ED provide challenges to effective surgical treatment.
Arthroscopy is commonly performed to aid diagnosis, perform FCP removal and to remove diseased cartilage. This leads to potential short term benefits in improved function and pain reduction however the longer term prognosis has been shown to be no different to patients with ED that were treated conservatively (12 and 13). Conservative management involves analgesic medications, exercise restriction, environmental adaptation and maintenance of an ideal body condition score. In addition physical therapies can form part of a conservative approach using modalities such as physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. However, conservatively managed patients will also go on to develop OA and these cases can be difficult to manage effectively.
Upcoming Trialed Treatments
More recently a variety of intra-articular treatments have been trialled and these have shown some promise in managing these conditions using a multi-modal approach. Hyaluronic acid and other joint lubricants have been used to help smooth joint articulation in OA but medium to long term effects appear to be limited. Lack of efficacious treatments for ED has resulted in trials of biological therapies such as Stem cell therapy and platelet rich plasma (PRP) (15-19). These therapies used under the new branch of medicine, termed regenerative medicine (RM), show great promise of better treating the disease and actually having a disease modifying effect rather than just treating the symptoms such as pain.
Treatments Used at Greenside: Stem Cell Therapy
At Greenside we have been using stem cell therapy along with PRP to treat ED for a number of years and have modified our protocols with experience to develop a minimally invasive highly effective treatment option. Using RM we are able to stop the degenerative process, reverse some of the signs of OA and restore joint health. Although RM cannot reverse the process (the dysplasia or abnormal development of the elbow joint) that results in the formation of OA we have shown it to be highly effective in managing the condition with outcomes and longevity of effects that out perform many surgical interventions and conservative management (20 and 21). We are able to resolve lameness, reduce pain and improve function for extended periods of time. Positive treatment responses commonly last for 18 months to two years before a top up injection is required.
Because RM cannot reverse the underlying ED, with time, the joint will start to degenerate again. At this point further treatment can be provided to regain control and arrest the degenerative process. Once stem cells have been harvested from the patient with a small surgical procedure done under general anaesthetic, we are able to culture the stem cells to provide the required numbers needed for effective treatment. We can also store these stem cells in liquid nitrogen in a process called cryopreservation.
This means we have a supply of stem cells usually for the lifetime of the patient. When a further treatment is required we can simply wake these cells up at the lab and culture more without having to harvest more adipose tissue (fat) from the patient.
Culturing the stem cells has many advantages such as knowing the exact concentration and viability of cells to provide a reliable “dose” specific to the condition being treated. The sterility, morphology and purity of the resultant cultured stem cells are checked prior to shipment from the lab to ensure patient safety and ensure the best possible cells are used.
From our extensive experience of treating ED we have found that dogs that have undergone arthroscopic intervention prior to treatment with RM tend to do less well than those dogs not having the procedure. We believe this is due to the invasive nature of arthroscopy and for the potential to cause further instability and more severe OA changes following FCP removal and curetting of the cartilage. For this reason we do not advocate the use of arthroscopy to manage ED. Patients that have had arthroscopy need to be treated more aggressively with RM requiring two treatments 12 weeks apart and the addition of hyaluronic acid into the treatment plan. We have improved our outcomes in these patients but repeat treatments are more commonly required on an annual basis.
Associated Conditions & Problems
In patients presenting with ED and OA we commonly find other problems associated with this disease process in the shoulders. Patients with ED have altered gait and loading patterns due to pain in the medial compartment of the elbow. This results in changes to the directional forces within the shoulder support structures and tendons involved in shoulder and elbow movement. For this reason we always evaluate a patients shoulder soft tissue structures with musculoskeletal ultrasound when they present with ED
In our experience 95% of dogs with ED have concurrent shoulder tendon problems which can result in another significant source of pain and loss of function. In addition to the mechanical effects of altered gait, elbows that have advanced OA changes commonly have a significant reduction in range of motion (ROM). This is due to new arthritic bone formation throughout the joint and thickening and fibrosis of the joint capsule, physically obstructing joint flexion and extension. This has secondary consequences which result in shoulder tendon degeneration. Disease or degeneration in other parts of the body or other limbs can also play a role due to compensatory adaptations to lameness and pain.
Fortunately RM is highly effective, if used with specific bespoke protocols, in treating OA and other degenerative conditions such as tendon degeneration. Not all stem cell treatments and PRP therapies are the same and many have not been validated in dogs which can result in sub optimal treatment outcomes.
The Greenside Specialists Approach
At Greenside we have investigated and trialled many different products and we believe we have found and validated the best possible products to ensure successful and consistent positive treatment outcomes.
RM is a targeted treatment that requires a holistic approach to treat all causes of pain and degeneration within the body simultaneously to get the best treatment responses. We therefore perform a thorough physical examination and perform further diagnostic tests (e.g. X-rays and MSK Ultrasound) to diagnose concurrent orthopaedic musculoskeletal conditions. All MSK diseases are amenable for treatment using RM if correctly diagnosed and specifically targeted. This includes many spinal conditions. Bloods are also taken to look as the patients general health profile and check thyroid levels as other non-orthopaedic disease processes can effect treatment outcomes if not identified.
Greenside regenerative therapies and rehabilitation was the first specialist referral centre in the UK to provide treatments using stem cell therapy and rehabilitation and we use objective data to ensure our patients are improving and to modify treatments using an evidence based approach rather than only subjective assessment. After treatment we monitor our patients and provide support including home exercise plans and rehabilitative therapies. We offer regular reassessments and remote support as required. There is no cure for ED but Greenside has developed a more efficacious treatment option providing reduced pain, increased function and a better quality of life for your pet.
Elbow dysplasia (ED) is one of the most common causes of thoracic limb lameness in Labradors and other large and giant breed dogs and it is seen very frequently in our clinic.
ED is a term used to describe the presence of one or more developmental conditions involving the elbow joint. These conditions develop in juvenile animals and pain and lameness are often present at four to six months of age. Many dogs do not present until much later when osteoarthritis (OA) is advanced and lameness is a constant feature.
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