Stem cell therapy is a relatively new treatment for osteoarthritis and was only approved for use in Canada four years ago.
The most common scenario in which patients might turn to stem cell treatment for their osteoarthritis is after trying other forms of therapy without success.
In some cases, patients might educate themselves about the benefits of stem cell therapy for arthritis and want to proceed with the treatment earlier.
What are stem cells exactly?
Broadly speaking, these type of cells exhibit the following two characteristics:
- They can duplicate themselves
- They can morph into different kinds of cells. For example, a stem cell can develop into a cartilage cell
Stem cells are located throughout the human body, particularly in the bone marrow and fatty tissue. Their regenerative properties make them ideally suited for repairing tissue (like cartilage).
A groundbreaking study by the Mayo Clinic in 2016 tested the benefit of using bone marrow stem cells to reduce arthritic pain and disability in knees.
The results exhibited a “dramatic improvement in the knee that received stem cells”, showing that this method can, at the very least, alleviate knee pain and pave the way for better management of the condition.
Are stem cells the best way to treat osteoarthritis?
It’s a bit too early to talk about the potential of stem cell for osteoarthritis in terms of a regenerative capacity. There have been some successful experiments — both in the lab as well as in actual patients — which demonstrated some cartilage growth. However, the sample size is still too small for researchers to conclude that stem cells can completely regenerate injured tissue.
Nevertheless, stem cell treatment has clear benefits for osteoarthritis patients in alleviating pain and improving function of the affected joint. Another recent study demonstrated that all patients receiving stem cell therapy for arthritis experienced at least 60% total improvement in their condition. In fact, one patient saw a 94% total improvement.
How does stem cell therapy work?
While stem cells are present in various parts of the body, they’re more prevalent in the bone marrow and fatty tissue.
At Athletic Edge we do not practice bone marrow based stem cell therapy, as it can be quite painful for patients. Instead we harvest stem cells using a procedure that resembles a mini-liposuction, removing fatty tissue from the abdomen or the buttock.
The extracted tissue is then processed within a centrifuge where the lipid oil is isolated, leaving behind the stem cells. Those are mixed together with some platelet rich plasma (PRP), which is also extracted from a blood sample of the same patient.
The combination of the stem cells and PRP is then injected into a patient’s affected joint.
The entire procedure takes about 75 minutes.
Stem cell therapy involves some minor discomfort for the patient, especially those who are skittish and uneasy with needles. There’s also a very slight risk of infection and bleeding as the process does involve extracting fatty tissue. But unlike other treatments, like taking anti-inflammatory medications for extended periods of time (which may cause stomach ulcers, bleeding, changes in kidney function, and more unwanted side effects), the overall risk for stem cell therapy is very low.
And, as we mentioned earlier, about 80% of patients exhibit pain reduction and better movement and function. There’s a net positive effect of osteoarthritis stem cell treatment.
Considering stem cell therapy for your osteoarthritis? You have a good chance of significantly decreasing your pain and improving your function. Call our clinic to learn more.