One in five adults suffer from Knee pain. If you’re suffering from pain, stem cell therapy for knees could help you find relief. Up to 70-80% of patients who have participated in stem cell therapy trials have found relief from their pain.
How can stem cell therapy for knees help?
One of the largest areas of potential research for stem cell therapy for knees is related to osteoarthritis. We’ll discuss research about this in more detail below. However, new studies are also looking into stem cell therapy for knee pain for conditions including:
- Sprains and tears in the MCL or ACL that can lead to chronic pain
- Patellofemoral syndrome
- Patellar tendonitis
- Meniscus tears
- Cartilage damage
Stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for knee pain conditions because it:
- Contains growth factors to promote health and healing
- Is a potent anti-inflammatory
- Has no known side effects with treatment
- Has a quick recovery time, with pain relief occurring rapidly
What is knee pain?
Before we can discuss stem cell therapy for knees, it’s important to know what knee pain is. Nearly 20% of all adults report pain in their knees each year. There is almost double that of any other joint. It can cause extreme pain and disability for people who suffer from it.
The following video gives a brief overview of the conditions that cause knee pain, as well as current treatment options for it.
What is a stem cell injection?
As Precise Care notes:
“Stem cells are, essentially, ‘building blocks’ of our body. Our own stem cells found in our bone marrow, blood, and adipose tissues come from the same family of cells that form joints, cartilage, menisci, ligaments, muscles and bone. These cells can be utilized to help repair your joints.”
How does a stem cell injection work?
Watch a stem cell therapy procedure for knee osteoarthritis take place at Caring Medical. In the video you’ll see the steps completed during the procedure, as well as this doctor’s success with patients over the years.
Does stem cell therapy for knee osteoarthritis work?
Knee osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. And, it’s one of the conditions that may be most benefited by stem cell therapy for knees. Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear condition most commonly occurring in people over the age of 55. Cartilage in the knee becomes worn down after years of use. This causes the ends of bone to rub together painfully, becoming inflamed. This can lead to limited range of motion and mobility.
Stem cell therapy for knee osteoarthritis is one of the most studied applications of stem cell therapy for knees. It works by taking stem cells from the donor’s body, concentrating them, and re-injecting them directly into the injured tissues. This may encourage the natural repair process of the body, allowing it to repair damage due to aging, overuse, or injury.
Regenexx is one of the leading providers of this therapy for osteoarthritis. In a 2015 report, they noted that over 75% of the patients registered in their trial reported a 50% improvement in their symptoms 48 months after the procedure. You can find all notes, including the parameters and limitations of their study here.
Emory Healthcare also echoes this success rate, claiming that 75-80% of their patients had significant pain relief and function in their joint following the procedure.
What’s the research on stem cell therapy for knee osteoarthritis?
Beyond Regenexx and Emory reports on stem cell therapy for knees, you can read more about this treatment in the following studies.
- A World Journal of Stem Cells study that performed a mini review of all available research on stem cell therapy for knee osteoarthritis, concluding that while there is promise there, more standard techniques needed to be developed for more thorough research studies
- A BMS Musculoskeletal Disorders study that discusses how stem cell therapies may help regenerate cartilage or inhibit the progression of knee osteoarthritis
While more research is absolutely needed to substantiate widespread use of this therapy, research is being done every day to learn more about how it could help patients. We are at the beginning of using stem cell therapy for knees, so a coordinated research effort and shared research and application techniques are necessary for showing the potential of this therapy.
Can stem cells regenerate cartilage?
As the BMS Musculoskeletal Disorders study touches on, there may be some promise in stem cells regenerating cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis. However, we are still not sure. Emory Healthcare notes that:
“There is some limited data suggesting an ability to regenerate a portion of the cartilage that may be worn down in the patient’s joint. Whether or not the cartilage regenerates has little correlation with relief of pain. In cases of more advanced arthritis, we are less likely to see any cartilage regeneration.”
What are some stem cell testimonials from patients?
Patricia Beals discusses how stem cell therapy for knees has helped her find pain relief, noting:
“Almost from the moment I got up from the table, I was able to throw away my cane. Now I’m biking and hiking like a 30-year-old.”
You can also watch a Green Bay patient talk about how stem cell therapy helped her after she tried cortisone shots, acupuncture, and physical therapy to no avail.
Finally, watch as one back pain patient discusses his excitement about entering a stem cell therapy trial. The video also gives a great overview about the research.
Is stem cell therapy covered by insurance?
Unfortunately, not typically. Even though there are many patient testimonials about how this therapy has worked, there’s still not enough research on this cutting-edge treatment for many of these therapies to be covered by insurance.
You can talk directly to your insurance company and your pain doctor for information on how to get coverage or help paying for this treatment. Out-of-pocket prices may vary depending on your treatment plan and what doctor you visit. Stem cell injections, however, can be a few thousand dollars for each phase of injections.
What other treatments are available for knee pain?
If you’re not a good candidate for stem cell therapy for knees, or can’t pay for the procedure, there are many different treatment options. And, even before considering stem cell therapy, you should try less intensive treatments first to see if they work for you.
Stage 1: Over-the-counter medications, dietary changes, and exercise
Your pain management specialist may first recommend changing to an anti-inflammatory diet and utilizing over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at the first twinges of pain due to knee pain. Large doses of NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal issues over time. In the beginning, though, low, infrequent doses may be enough to relieve pain.
Additionally, your doctor may suggest specific exercises to build up the muscles that support the knee. They may also suggest a weight loss program if one is needed.
Stage 2: Prescription medications and supplements, plus complementary therapies
If the over-the-counter medications begin to lose their effectiveness, or the amount needed begins to increase, the doctor may prescribe a stronger NSAID. You may also have already been taking supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, fish oil, or SAMe with some good results.
Other treatment options such as acupuncture may be introduced in either stage one or two. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis and improve the quality of life in as little as three months of treatment.
Stage 3: Minimally-invasive treatments including joint injections, stem cell therapy, and physical therapy
If you have been exercising, eating well, taking medications, and utilizing complementary therapies, you may be in stage two for a long time. As you age and the joint continues to get used, the effectiveness of these treatments may begin to fade. At this stage, your doctor may want to discuss the possibility of stem cell therapy or joint injections.
In general, joint injections include an anesthetic for the pain and a corticosteroid to control inflammation. This may offer significant pain relief and an increase in mobility that allows you to continue to exercise and participate in physical therapy.
Supportive braces or canes may be introduced in this stage or in any of the preceding stages as needed.
What about knee surgery?
One of the greatest benefits of stem cell therapy for knees is that it provides another option prior to knee surgery. Surgery is typically only tried after all other possibilities have been exhausted. However, Regenexx notes that:
“Recent research has shown that some of the most popular arthroscopic surgeries have no benefit at all (including meniscus surgery). Knee replacement is extremely traumatic and carries new-found risks of toxic wear particles entering the blood stream. Surgical risks aside, all surgeries minimally require months of painful rehab to regain strength and mobility. Most surgeries also accelerate the cascade of degeneration that leads to osteoarthritis.”
Since this varies from patient to patient, it’s worth it to look at times when knee surgery is a good option. You should talk to your doctor about surgery for knee pain if:
- Other treatments, including stem cell therapy, hasn’t worked
- Knee pain is persistent and unresponsive to any other treatment
- Knee pain significantly impacts your daily life
- You have swelling and inflammation that does not go away with medications
- Your knee begins to become deformed (bowing in or out)
- You are unable to bend or straighten the knee
Types of knee surgeries for osteoarthritis
There are two types of surgery for knee osteoarthritis: arthroscopic and total or partial knee replacement.
Arthroscopic surgery is the least-invasive of the two. The surgeon inserts a small camera into an incision in the knee. He then removes the damaged cartilage and any loose pieces of bone that may be causing pain. After this surgery, you may be up and around with minimal pain in just a few days. Arthroscopic surgery is a short-term surgery but can help delay a more complicated surgery. This is important if the patient is very young.
Knee replacement surgery
A total or partial knee replacement surgery is a last-resort option when pain becomes unmanageable and debilitating. A surgeon removes all or part of the knee and replaces it with metal or plastic artificial parts. This is a major surgery, and the recovery period is long, but the results can last for years.
A partial knee replacement may be an option if the damage due to knee osteoarthritis is minimal. An Oxford study found that a partial knee replacement is a safer alternative to a total knee replacement, which does come with some significant risks. The study found that those with total knee replacement were four times more likely to die in the month after surgery than those with a partial knee replacement. This may be due to the age of the patient or underlying health conditions. But, the risks of total knee replacement are not insignificant.
Medical director of Arthritis Research UK Professor Alan Silman believes that this research will help patients make better choices in consultation with their doctors:
“Even in the elderly, with other health problems, knee replacement is a very safe and effective procedure. These data remind us that there are still patients, who fortunately very rarely, can develop life threatening complications following surgery and we still need to find surgical approaches that takes away these risks whilst retaining a successful outcome for patients.”
The success of total knee replacement may also depend on gender, with women getting total knee replacement at a later age than men, thereby increasing their chance of success. Regardless of gender, it is important to note that for mild knee osteoarthritis, knee surgery of any kind is not recommended and may have zero benefit to the patient. For these cases, less invasive therapies are always recommended.
Stem cell therapy for knees action plan
If you suffer from knee pain, it is important to talk with your doctor on a regular basis about your pain management plan. Age, activity, and lifestyle can make a huge difference in the success of treatment, whether cutting-edge stem cell therapy or surgical. Talk to your doctor and let her know if there are any changes in your level of pain or treatments that do work. This can help you build a treatment plan that really does work for you in the long-run.
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