As an individual experiencing foot pain, you may be surprised to learn that relief could come from something as seemingly unrelated as a human umbilical cord. But it’s true! In our Houston podiatry practice, we’re now using a substance called Wharton’s jelly, a substance derived from umbilical cords, to treat a range of foot and ankle conditions. Today, we’ll highlight how it works for our patients, and how even famous athletes have found relief with this compound. Let’s dive in, together!

What is Wharton’s Jelly?  

This is a gelatinous tissue found in human umbilical cords. It’s rich in collagen types I, III and V. It’s also packed with elastin and fibronectin, which provides a natural scaffold for cellular adhesion. Additionally, it’s rich in long-chain hyaluronic acid, and various cytokines and human growth factors. These components are essential for cellular growth and repair. 

A treatment involving Wharton’s jelly is considered to be regenerative medicine. That means the substances included in these injections are naturally derived. And they simulate your body to heal itself. In our practice, it fits right in with Shockwave Therapy and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma). We were thrilled to add this treatment option to our range of regenerative treatment options in September of last year. 

Sourcing Wharton’s Jelly Injections Preparing an injection of Wharton's jelly

The Wharton’s jelly we use in our practice, and in all medical settings, is processed from donated umbilical cords. All the umbilical cord donors must be rigorously screened following standards set by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). The processing preserves the compound’s structural integrity and original characteristics, ensuring its effectiveness in treatment. The processed product is then sterilized and made suitable for patient injections. 

Understanding the Treatment Process

The Wharton’s jelly injection is a structural connective tissue allograft. (That just means it’s a tissue donation from another human who is not genetically identical to the recipient.) It’s intended for homologous use, meaning it’s intended to replace or supplement, missing or damaged tissue at the site of a structural deficit. As a result, it’s a great option for treating foot and ankle issues. Just one injection can provide both cushioning and structural support to the affected area. 

To prepare for treatment, you’ll have to avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) such as aspirin for two weeks prior to your injection. On the day of your treatment, you’ll be given your injection in an outpatient setting, and be free to go home on the same day, avoiding high impact activities. While you may experience mild discomfort for up to 72 hours after the injection, your foot and ankle pain will decrease noticeably after this period. And you should begin to notice your function and mobility begin to improve.
You’ll still need to avoid anti-inflammatory medications for the two weeks following your procedure, and you should stick to low impact activities on the treated area. After three weeks, you’ll be able to resume light exercise, and by four weeks, full activity levels will be permissible. 

What Can We Treat with a Wharton’s Jelly Injection? 

This form of regenerative medicine can be particularly beneficial for foot and ankle conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and ankle arthritis. By providing a natural, regenerative solution, it can help to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and promote healing in those areas. 

Testimonials and Success Stories

Jake Ballard, former NY Giants NFL player, suffered a torn ACL during play, putting an end to his football career. But he was still living with pain, and wanted to feel better. So he decided to get a Wharton’s jelly injection. He says, “The procedure was very fast, painless, very easy, and only took about 15 minutes, and now I’m on my way to help my life!”

Retired pro-baseball pitcher Brett Saberhagen is also a fan of this form of regenerative medicine. He says, “I wish I knew about regenerative medicine while I was playing, and not afterwards. I think it would have made a huge difference with the amount of injuries that actually probably started as a minor thing, but grew and [led to me] having surgery. If I had had those aches and pains and knew about regenerative medicine I probably could have stayed away from surgery. 
I don’t know how many shots of cortisone I’ve had in numerous areas, even in my finger at times I had a tendon sheet that was inflamed on my index finger in my pitching hand. I was getting shots of cortisone, but come to find out that cortisone doesn’t help your body, it deteriorates your joints, ligaments and tendons. It’s not a good thing. It’s a quick fix for you. You’ll feel better really soon, and you’re able to go back out there and compete for your team, and get back out on the playing field, but in the long term, it does more damage to your body than what the regenerative medicine does. [With a Wharton’s jelly injection, it] goes right into that joint or ligament and really helps mend those issues rather than do long term damage.” 

In short, he concludes, “Regenerative medicine has worked for me, And I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.” 

Cortisone Injections vs Wharton’s Jelly Injections: What’s the Difference?

If, like Brett, you’ve tried cortisone injections in the past, you’ll find that Wharton’s jelly offers a different approach. While cortisone injections are anti-inflammatory, they can also weaken tissue over time and may have side effects. Also, there are certain spots in your body—like your Achilles tendon—where we cannot safely provide you with a cortisone injection. 

In contrast, Wharton’s jelly promotes healing and tissue regeneration. This provides a more long-term solution with fewer risks. As such, we consider it a new and improved option for treating injury and inflammation via injection. 

Who’s a Treatment Candidate? 

The use of Wharton’s jelly in podiatry is a testament to the incredible advances in regenerative medicine. This substance, previously discarded after childbirth, now offers a promising solution to foot and ankle pain. It’s a safe treatment option for most patients, especially those who suffer with chronic or lingering pain. If you’re struggling with such a condition, it’s time to come into the office to consult with Dr. Andrew Schneider. During your consultation, we’ll determine if this is the right treatment for you.