health

Dr Miriam Stoppard: Hormone that helps women give birth 'can also heal joints'


Backache is common to most pregnancies as numerous women will attest, particularly in the last three months when a woman’s body is gearing up to give birth.

This backache is due, in large part, to the joints of the pelvis ­“slackening”, they’re no longer stiff.

They loosen so that the pelvis ­becomes stretchy and can cope with a seven to eight-pound baby making its way out.

Well, this essential stretching is all down to a hormone, relaxin, and ­scientists are saying it could be used to treat a painful joint condition.

Relaxin, besides its joint relaxing effects, slows down metabolism and a study from Harvard Medical School has pointed the way to using the hormone in an injection for people with arthrofibrosis.

This is a condition caused by ­injuries and diabetes and results in excessive amounts of scar tissue to grow in the joints, making the joints stiff, painful and immobile.

The researchers tested their theory on human cells and found relaxin stops them from creating scar tissue, thereby curtailing the condition.

An elderly woman rubbing her arthritic sore hand
The hormone helps the condition, which makes the joints stiff, painful and immobile

A second phase was to inject the hormone into an animal with a stiff shoulder and the researchers found the symptoms got better within days.

Arthrofibrosis is quite common.

It affects more than 5% of the ­population, particularly older women and diabetics.

Up to a third of patients who have had knee surgery for ACL ­reconstruction end up with it.

It also affects the hips, wrists, ankles and shoulders.

Using a version of the hormone called relaxin-2, researchers showed that treatment had to be prolonged.

So multiple injections into the joint led to lasting improvements in the range of motion, but a single injection to the joint did not, paving the way for treating patients.

Lead researcher Professor Edward Rodriguez, an orthopedic surgeon at Harvard Medical School, said: “Arthrofibrosis is a widespread disease, occurring in all joints, and its high ­incidence limited treatment options and poor patient outcomes call for alternative non-surgical solutions.

“The local delivery of relaxin-2 offers a potential paradigm shift in the ­treatment for the millions of ­individuals who are affected by arthrofibrosis every year.

“Current treatment options for arthrofibrosis, such as physical therapy and medication, provide only marginal or temporary relief and do not address the source of the pain and stiffness.

“While more research is needed, repurposing this pregnancy hormone as a treatment for arthrofibrosis could provide an opportunity.”





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