What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy is a developing orthopaedic treatment modality that aims to harness the power of the body’s own stem cells to promote healing and recovery. Adult stem cells, which are found throughout the body, have many regenerative and anti-inflammatory properties and possess the unique ability to differentiate or change themselves. This allows stem cells to “grow” into a wide variety of cell types, including muscle, nerve, cartilage and even bone. Many orthopaedic surgeons believe that stem cells could have the ability to treat common soft tissue injuries and conditions, like torn cartilage, arthritis, and muscle tears.
There is evidence to suggest that stem cell therapy has the potential to repair and strengthen damaged tissues throughout the entire musculoskeletal system, but the science is not yet conclusive on the effectiveness of the treatment. Each treatment is unique to the patient and results can vary from case to case. Furthermore, there are not yet clearly defined clinical protocols for how and when to deploy stem cell treatments in the management of orthopaedic conditions. To that end, there are research studies and trials currently underway around the world to better understand if and how these procedures can impact common orthopaedic injuries and conditions. As part of his clinical practice, Dr. Chris O’Grady offers regenerative medicine procedures like stem cell therapy alongside traditional treatment modalities to ensure his patients have the best chance of success.
As outlined above, stem cell treatments are still in the nascent stages of development and approval. However, many clinicians have started incorporating these procedures into their practices alongside more traditional treatments. If you are eligible for the procedure your physician will begin by drawing blood through a peripheral vein, much like they would for routine lab work. Then your physician will extract a sample of your bone marrow from the iliac crest (top of the hip), which is one of the most fruitful sites to harvest stem cells. Both samples, blood and bone marrow, will then be processed in a laboratory setting to prepare an injection of growth factors from the blood and stem cells processed out of the bone marrow. This mixture is then injected into one or both knees, typically under ultrasound guidance to ensure precise delivery of the growth factors and stem cells. The primary goal of the procedure is to create and deliver to the site of injury a greater concentration of stem cells than the body can generate on its own, which helps promote healing and recovery.
Common Conditions Treated with Stem Cell Therapy
Due to the healing and regenerative properties that are believed to be present in stem cells, the procedure can be used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. In the knee specifically, the most common conditions treated with stem cell therapy are osteoarthritis, chronic joint pain, and soft tissue injuries resulting from acute trauma. Patients from all walks of life and all activity levels could be candidates for the procedure, as the healing and regenerative properties of stem cell therapy have the potential to improve across the board.
Whether your pain stems from chronic overuse or an acute injury, there is a very good chance that the healing properties of adult stem cell therapy could expedite your recovery process and get you back to your life sooner.
Advantages of Stem Cell Therapy
While the safety and efficacy of stem cell therapies are still being vetted, it is believed that there are some major advantages to the procedure versus traditional treatments. First, stem cell therapy is far less invasive than traditional surgical approaches to knee pain and can be done in the outpatient setting. There are no incisions required for the procedure and, as such, the risks of infection and complication are dramatically lower than surgery, and recovery is very minimal. Oftentimes the only side-effect of the procedure is soreness at the site of injection. Second, stem cell therapy requires very little, if any, pain medication during recovery, so there is no risk of adverse side effects to opioid medication. Given that we are currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic on par with some of the worst drug scourges in our nation’s history, keeping patients off of narcotics during recovery is no small matter. Finally, stem cell therapy relies on the body’s own cells to promote and drive healing, so there are no outside chemicals or additives that are being injected into your body.