Stem Cell Therapy For Knee Pain
Every year, knee pain affects millions of people in the United States. The most common cause of chronic knee pain is osteoarthritis, which affects almost 37% of the population. Sports and athletic injuries can also cause debilitating pain. A lot of people learn to live with pain, believing their only options are invasive surgery or steroid injections. This needn’t be the case! At Spectrum Health, we believe in offering you the most advanced options in regenerative medicine. Stem cell therapy for knee pain might just be the best solution for you!
Can Stem Cell Treatment For Knees Really Relieve Pain?
Yes! Stem cell therapy has been shown to regenerate damaged tissue in both animals and humans. While research is still under way, there is a lot of published evidence that stem cells not only relieve knee pain, but also promote the growth of new tissue within the knee joint. Several authors have reported effective outcomes with stem cell therapy
- A meta analysis that included 11 trials and 582 patients showed that MSC stem cell treatment improved pain scoring (WOMAC), was safe and efficacious treatment for patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.
- A report by Busse et al (2008) evaluated a patient who underwent injection of stem cells into the knee joint. The patient had significantly lesser pain, and an improved range of motion. Not only that, an MRI taken six months later showed growth of the joint cartilage and meniscus.
- Another larger case series (Koh et al, 2013) evaluated 13 patients who underwent stem cell knee injections, all of whom showed a definite improvement in pain and functioning of the knee joint.
- Orozco et al (2013) followed twelve patients for almost a year after they received stem cell injections in the knee. They stated that patients had rapid and progressive improvement with regard to pain, disability and overall quality of life. They also noted an improvement in cartilage quality on the MRI scans.
Of course, we have the experiences of numerous patients at Spectrum Health as well, who have enjoyed pain free days since they visited us for a knee injection. Our medical director, Dr. Joseph Locke, has vast experience in regenerative medicine procedures, and has helped several patients with chronic knee pain and injuries to move on to a better life.
How Do Stem Cells Heal The Knee Joint?
Stem cells are ‘undifferentiated’ cells. This means that they do not have any defined role, but when the need arises, they can turn into any specific cell type. Stem cells, when introduced into damaged tissue, naturally attempt to repair that tissue by taking the form of cells that participate in the regenerative process.
Knee pain commonly occurs because there is damage to the cartilage and meniscus of the joint. Your knee already has the capacity to repair damaged cartilage, because joint fluid has stem cells that can differentiate into chondrocytes, cells that repair and lay down cartilage. However, the number of cells available in the joint is limited, and the process can take time.
When stem cells are injected into the damaged knee, however, the above process moves along much faster. Injected stem cells can convert into cells that lay down cartilage and bone, thus accelerating the repair process. This not only relieves pain, but also improves the function of the joint. One patient who had undergone stem cell knee injections (Centeno et al, 2008) was evaluated using an MRI scan before and after stem cell treatment. The scans showed a significant decrease in cartilage defect size.
Where Do The Stem Cells Come From?
At Spectrum Health, we use autologous mesenchymal stem cells, which means that the cells are taken from your own body. There are several sources of stem cells, including adipose tissue or body fat and bone marrow concentrate. Adipose tissue has been found to have large number of stem cells, and is also easier to harvest. We usually harvest adipose tissue from the abdominal region. We also use sources of growth factors, such as platelet rich plasma (PRP) to stimulate tissue regeneration.
Am I The Right Candidate For Stem Cell Treatment?
Stem cell therapy for knee pain is a viable option for the most common causes of knee pain – athletic injuries and degenerative arthritis. These include:
- Acute injuries to the knee joint, such as ligament and meniscus tears
- Long standing knee pain, such as osteoarthritis, if there is still viable cartilage present.
Stem cells can convert into chondrocytes only if there is some amount of viable cartilage present. Therefore, this might not be the right option if your osteoarthritis is in an advanced stage, or if you have a completely torn meniscus – these might require more invasive procedures.
To determine if you’re the right candidate for stem cell injections, you’ll need a consultation first, with Dr. Joseph Locke. You may also need imaging studies like an x-ray and MRI of your knee joint, if you haven’t had one in the past six months. Dr. Locke will determine the extent of damage, and take that into consideration along with your overall health and physical status.
Will Stem Cell Knee Injections Hurt? What Does The Procedure Involve?
The entire process is carried out under local anesthesia. While your knee will be numbed, you can choose to have a mild sedative to make you less anxious and more comfortable with the procedure.
If we’re harvesting stem cells from adipose tissue, this will first be taken from your abdomen. The procedure is similar to liposuction and is painless. If we need bone marrow, this will be taken from the back of your hip using a non-traumatic needle. The harvested stem cells will be processed in a laboratory using high technology equipment, and then prepared for injection.
The knee injection will be done under sterile conditions, and your leg will be prepared accordingly. Dr. Joseph Locke will then inject the stem cells into the affected knee joint. We use x-ray guidance, with advanced imaging capabilities, to make sure the defect is located correctly, and the injections are precise. This helps the stem cells reach the area where they are required the most.
It is possible in some rare cases that you might require more than a single injection of stem cells into the knee, depending on the extent of damage that it has sustained.
Why Is Stem Cell Therapy Better Than Other Treatment Options?
The other alternatives to stem cell therapy – usually recommended by most doctors, are arthroscopic surgery to repair torn tissues, or a total knee replacement. The biggest benefit of stem cells is that you get to keep your own joint instead of a prosthesis. Unlike arthroscopic surgery, it allows natural healing of tissues and so there is no scar formation.
Here are the benefits of stem cell injections over more invasive procedures:
- The entire process is a lot quicker. The journey from consultation to treatment and recovery can be as short as a couple of days.
- You don’t have the burden of additional costs due to hospital stay, missed work, and post-surgical rehabilitation.
- You don’t need to use supports such as crutches after the procedure. You can return to normal activities within a few weeks
Does Stem Cell Treatment For Knees Have Any Side Effects?
Stem cell therapy for knee pain comes with minimal side effects. A recent meta-analysis (Yubo et al, 2017) has shown that the few minor effects that do occur, happen in all forms of knee treatment. More importantly, stem cell therapy for knees has not been linked with any major adverse events.
- Pain: As with any medical procedure, there is a risk of post-procedure pain. You will be provided with prescription analgesics, which you may need to take for a few days. If you have difficulty walking for the first few days, you may require the support of crutches, although we don’t see this in most patients.
- Swelling: Swelling is an absolutely normal reaction to the stem cell injection, and it will last for about a week. The use of ice packs, and compression bandages may give you some relief. If the swelling increases rapidly, and is warm and painful to touch, please see your doctor immediately.
- Infection: Spectrum Health follows strict aseptic guidelines and all injections are done under sterile conditions. There is, however, a slight chance of infection, if your immunity is low.
- Asymmetry: There is a small risk of abdominal asymmetry due to harvesting the stem cells from this site. The amount removed, however, is so small that it’s barely noticeable.