Stem cell treatments provide an alternative to opioids and surgery for those suffering from osteoarthritis, meniscus tears, tendon tears, and other wear and tear problems.
The field of Regenerative Medicine, or Orthobiologics, is relatively new, but expanding fast with supporting scientific studies. Traditionally, orthopedic injections use drugs such as cortisone. Carolina Orthobiologics physician, Christie Lehman, MD, explains that Orthobiologics are a patients’ own healing cells, which are a natural way to improve pain and function for many painful orthopedic conditions. These procedures consist of collecting a person’s own platelets or stem cells, preparing them, and then injecting them into the person’s problem area.
What is osteoarthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints and affects 27 million Americans. The degenerative joint disease causes cartilage to wear down, bones to rub against one another and leads to stiffness and pain. Risk factors like age, obesity, previous joint injury and genetics contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis plagues millions of older adults throughout the world. It is the most common type of degenerative joint disease. Commonly referred to as “OA”, osteoarthritis is an inevitability for many people. It occurs as the rubber-like cartilage that protects the ends of human bones gradually breaks down. It eventually leads to a situation where bones rub against one another as little, if any, cartilage remains. OA can occur in any of the body's joints. However, it is more common in the hips, knees, spine, and hands.
OA sounds like a particularly gruesome condition with painful bone-on-bone contact yet hope is available. Patients currently use physical therapy, pain relievers, cortisone injections and even surgery. Scientists have recently pinpointed stem cells as a possible catalyst for OA healing.
How long have these Orthobiologics been used?
In the 1990’s, surgeons in the United States began using platelets and bone marrow stem cells to improve bone healing after surgery. During that time it was also shown that stem cells could repair broken bones that wouldn’t heal. Today, many physicians perform platelet and stem cell procedures in the office setting for orthopedic problems.
Where do these Stem Cells come from?
The source of Stem Cells that is compliant with the FDA is the person’s own bone marrow. Dr. Lehman says she begins the treatment by applying a numbing medicine to the patient’s hip area and extracts cells from the patient’s bone marrow. The stem cells are then separated using a centrifuge machine to provide a concentrated sample to inject into the patient’s damaged joint. Since the stem cells are from the patient’s own body, the rejection risk is low.
Alternative to surgery
Lehman, who is also a non-surgical specialist trained in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation says stem cell therapy offers another alternative to patients who are facing joint-replacement surgery or meniscus surgery.
“Some patients who are seeking stem cell treatment have already tried physical therapy, cortisone shots, hyaluronic acid or joint fluid injections, and platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections without much success,” says Lehman.
She recommends that people should try to treat these conditions sooner than later, as like most medical treatments, Orthobiologic injections will be more effective the less severe the condition.
How should I prepare for my treatment?
Patients should stop taking anti-inflammatory medication seven days before their injection. You shouldn’t take Aspirin, Motrin, Aleve and Naprosyn. Remember to tell your doctor if you are on any blood thinning medications. You should also drink as much water as you can on the day of your injection.
What can I expect afterwards?
Lehman says patients who undergo stem cell injections should expect to experience soreness for a few days, but many return to their normal activities shortly after the procedure. Relief will be slow and occur over several months.
The treatment is not covered by most medical insurance. Visit CarolinaOrthobiologics.com to learn more about stem cell injections or call 828-253-7521 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Lehman to discuss whether this treatment is an option for you.