Pregnancy hormone that relaxes muscles could work for joint condition

Hormone that slows metabolism and relaxes muscles during pregnancy could be used to ease painful joint condition, study in mice shows

  • Relaxin is a common cause for complaint among pregnant women
  • It slows down metabolism and can cause muscle flare-ups during pregnancy
  • But a study at Harvard shows it could benefit people with joint pain
  • The hormone prevents cells from overproducing scar tissue 

A hormone most commonly produced during pregnancy could be used to treat a painful joint condition, according to new research.

Relaxin is a common cause for complaint among pregnant women: it slows down metabolism, as Deliciously Ella founder Ella Woodward explained recently, and former Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill said it caused her Achilles tendons to flare up.

But a new study performed at Harvard Medical School showed the hormone could be used as a regular injection for people with arthrofibrosis, a condition caused by injuries or diabetes, which causes excessive amounts of scar tissue to grow in the joints. 

Testing the theory on in-vitro human cells, researchers found the hormone stops cells from producing scar tissue, curtailing the condition. 

They then injected the hormone into an animal model with a stiff shoulder and found their symptoms faded within days. 

A hormone pregnant women produce to loosen joints and prepare the body for the stress of carrying a child may be the key to curing a painful joint condition

Arthrofibrosis affects more than five percent of the population, particularly older women and diabetics.  

Up to a third of patients who have undergone ACL reconstruction surgery end up with the condition. 

It is most common in the shoulders, knees, hips, wrists and ankles. 

In the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, researchers used a specific version of the hormone called relaxin-2 to treat an animal model.

They showed that multiple injections to the joint resulted in significant and lasting improvements in range of motion, while a single injection to the joint did not.   

Lead researcher Edward Rodriguez, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the 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 and effective 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 unprecedented opportunity.’   

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