Elbow arthritis occurs due to worn out cartilage, resulting from injury or regular wear and tear. The elbow joint consists of matched joint surfaces with strong supporting ligaments. Compared with the hip and knee, elbow is not responsible for as much weight-bearing. Therefore, the elbow is a rather stable joint.
Previous injuries, such as fracture or elbow dislocation, are risk factors for developing elbow arthritis. Reconstruction surgeries to the elbow can also be a causative factor for elbow arthritis, especially when the repaired joint cannot be returned to the pre-injury condition. Athletes or individuals, who rely heavily on elbow functions, such as professional baseball pitchers, are also susceptible to ligament and cartilage damage at the elbow due to overuse. Hence, the risk for developing elbow arthritis is greater in these cases.
Typical symptoms of elbow arthritis include pain and swelling in the joint, grating or locking sensations in the elbow and reduced range of motion. Advanced cases of elbow arthritis place pressure on the ulnar nerve, which runs along the inner side of the elbow, leading to tingling sensation.
Like elbow arthritis, shoulder arthritis is common in people with previous shoulder injuries. Moreover, this condition may have a genetic predisposition. Typical symptoms of shoulder arthritis include pain, stiffness, swelling, reduced range of motion and grinding sensation in the joint.
Shoulder and elbow arthritis are diagnosed by imagines tests, such as X-ray, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), showing abnormalities in joint structures.
Conservative treatment of shoulder and elbow arthritis include oral pain medications, physical therapy to improve muscle strength and flexibility, and the modification of activity. In cases where it may be necessary to effectively control pain symptoms, steroid injections may be administered at the site. However, the pain-relieving effect of steroid injections is short-lived and the side effects are a potential concern for repeated use. The injection of hyaluronic acid, also known as viscosupplementation, can also improve the joint fluid composition, leading to greater joint mobility. Nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine/chondroitin supplement, can be taken to regenerate cartilage in patients. Moreover, a cartilage or bone graft can be used to replace damaged joint tissues.
Patients, who do not respond well to conservative treatments, may require surgery.Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure, which can be used to remove degenerative tissues in the area. Joint replacement is, however, necessary for completely degenerated joint surfaces.
People who may be suffering from recalcitrant shoulder and elbow arthritis may benefit from stem cell therapy. Stem cells are primitive cells that can undergo differentiation to form different types of cells in the body, such as bone, blood, cartilage, tendon, ligaments, etc. These cells are responsible for healing tissue damages by generating new healthy cells. However, with age, the body loses its ability to attract enough stem cells to the site of injury. In this regard, stem cell therapy delivers a high concentration of stem cells to the affected area to promote natural healing.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be derived easily from the patient’s bone marrow or fat deposit. These cells have shown promising results in various animal models as well as clinical studies to help regenerate damaged cartilage. For example, fat-derived MSCs demonstrated good healing property in dogs with chronic osteoarthritis of the humeroradial (elbow) joints. Moreover, MSCs are known to secrete anti-inflammatory factors, such as cytokines, that modulate pain and inflammation at the site of injection. Furthermore, gene-modified MSCs can also promote tissue regeneration at the site of damage in osteoarthritis models.
Unlike steroid injections, stem cell therapy does not present side effects, and is generally well tolerated in patients. Moreover, because these cells are derived from the patient, there are no chances of immune rejection. Other types of stem cells used in practices include amniotic derived stem cells and umbilical cord blood cells, both of which are not recognized by the patient’s immune system, and therefore very safe to administer.
Traditional surgical interventions are associated with side effects, such as anesthesia complications, a long recovery process and the chance of requiring additional surgeries. Stem cell therapy, on the other hand, promotes the body’s natural healing process to result in faster and stronger recovery.
Amniotic and Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Treatments
The most revolutionary regenerative medicine treatments now being offered include amniotic and umbilical stem cell treatments. These are FDA regulated and contain growth factors, hyaluronic acid, cytokines and stem cells.