Regenerative therapies for the musculoskeletal system are the future of orthopedic medicine. Stem cell therapy is an innovative treatment that heals musculoskeletal problems without the need for surgery. In the United States alone, there are more than 500,000 spinal fusions and 400,000 lumbar discectomies performed each year. To avoid surgery, many people are choosing alternate forms of treatment.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells in the body that can become many specialized types of cells. Adult stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells in that they are derived from adults, usually the patient’s own body. Stem cells used to treat musculoskeletal problems are called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which turn into cartilage cells and bone cells.
How does stem cell therapy work?
The stem cells are obtained from the patient by aspirating tissue from fat (adipose) or taking bone marrow solution from the hip bone (iliac crest). The cells are spun in a centrifuge machine to identify and separate the stem cells that help heal tissues. Stem cells are injected into the damaged or injured body structure, such as a tendon, ligament, or spinal disc.
The additional method of obtaining stem cells includes amniotic fluid. This is obtained from consenting mothers of those scheduled for a c-section. The fluid is processed at an FDA regulated lab and prepared for use.
How are the stem cells obtained?
The human body has many stem cell storage sites. The easiest method for obtaining stem cells is to remove them from the hip bone (iliac crest). The procedure is done at the physician’s office, and it begins with the patient lying face down on the exam table. The skin over the bone is cleaned with an antiseptic, then numbed using a lidocaine solution. Under x-ray guidance, a procedure needle is inserted into the bone’s cortex. The liquid marrow is then withdrawn into a syringe. After the needle is removed, a bandage is applied. After the procedure, the stem cells are processed in the laboratory to concentrate them.
What conditions are treated with stem cell injections?
Stem cell injections are often used for the treatment of:
- Muscular tears
- Chronic partial rotator cuff tears
- Osteoarthritis of the shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle joints
- Discogenic back pain
- Meniscal and cartilage tears in the knee
- Spinal facet pain
- Chronic radiculopathy
- Sacroiliac joint pain
What risks are associated with stem cell treatments?
The risks associated with stem cell injections include infection, nerve damage, and bleeding. However, these incidents rarely occur. There is no risk for allergic reaction since your own stem cells are used during the procedure. We recommend only effective, safe procedures for our patients.
When will I notice benefit from the injections?
The benefit occurs 2-3 months following the whole therapy protocol. For most patients, 3-4 injections are necessary, and we usually will only perform 3 injections within a 12-month time span.
Do stem cell injections work?
In a very recent study, researchers followed 18 patients who suffered from osteoarthritis of the knee, ankle, and/or hip. Each of these patients received one stem cell injection and were followed by laboratory and MRI tests for several months. All 18 patients showed therapeutic benefits, such as decreased pain, increased walking distance, and improved function scores. In addition, MRI results improved. In 2011, a study involving 339 patients with knee osteoarthritis found that 60% of patients had pain relief after the stem cell therapy. In addition, only 6% still required a total knee replacement.
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Emadedin M, Ghorbani-Liastani M, Fazeli R, et al. (2015). Long-Term Follow-up of Intra-articular Injection of Autologous Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Patients with Knee, Ankle, or Hip Osteoarthritis. Arch Iran Med, 18(6), 336-344.
Pak J. Regeneration of human bones in hip osteonecrosis and human cartilage in knee osteoarthritis with autologous adipose derived stem cells: a case series. J Med Case Rep. 2001;5:296. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-5-296.