The statistics are staggering…over 40 million Americans suffer from arthritis, or the inflammation of one or more joints that results in a reduction in the shock-absorbing cartilage which makes for a smooth and painless movement of the limbs or back.
Surprisingly, over half of these individuals are under 65 years old. But the numbers continue to grow when you consider the 21 million Americans suffering from osteoarthritis plus 2.1 million people coping with rheumatoid arthritis pain.
Quality of life is drastically reduced in patients with forms of arthritis, who not only deal with near constant pain and immobility, but also have limited options for gaining complete relief. Arthritis medication reduces pain and improves joint function; yet these painkillers have undesirable side effects. Joint surgery can be a costly option, but fortunately a cutting-edge resolution to this problem is now at hand: stem cell therapy.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells distinguish themselves from other cells of the body because they have the ability to divide, self-renew and can even be coaxed to differentiate into other specialized cells — such as heart cells, liver cells or bone cells. This “multipotency” gives stem cells the power to create new healthy cells and repair damaged tissue.
Two types of stem cells exist. Embryonic stem cells are removed from human embryos in a laboratory (in-vitro) 4-5 days after fertilization. The second source is adult stem cells, which can be harvested from adult bone marrow by needle from the pelvic bone; or gathered from high-yielding adipose tissue taken from the abdomen through a quick liposuction procedure. The adult forms of stem cells hold the potential to regenerate ligament, cartilage and tendons to aid in the treatment of orthopaedic diseases.
The Stem Cell Therapy Process
Regenerative medicine is the branch of science that uses cell-based techniques to repair organs and tissue, offering an alternate solution to replacement therapies.
Orthopaedic surgeons are focusing on adult stem cells taken from patients’ live tissue not only to battle acute pain and improve quality of life, but to act as a healing agent for orthopaedic injuries. Stem cell therapy is a significant option for those patients for whom traditional treatments have provided minimal success.
Once live tissue has been removed from a patient, it is placed in a device to separate the stem cells from the remaining tissue. The stem cells are then injected into the area of damage or injury. The entire process is over in under an hour; and since patients are receiving their own cells, there is no risk of immune system rejection.
Often the initial stem cell injection is followed by a platelet-rich injection which involves injecting the injured site with platelets drawn from the patient’s blood. Platelets have a high concentration of nutrients, which dramatically bolster the natural healing process of the injured site.
What Are the Success Rates for Stem Cell Therapy?
Most patients will experience significant relief only 1-2 months after the initial injection, and will continue to see significant improvements for 3 or 4 additional months. As research progresses and technology advances, the possibility of the restoration of a fully-functioning cartilage surface are in the future.
For patients suffering the debilitating effects of joint injury from sports, inflammation or degeneration with age, healing existing tissue means restoring the ability to withstand mechanical stresses during physical activities for the rest of their lives.
Both stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) can be be used to restore functionality to cartilage tears, arthritic joints, tendinitis and many other joint-related injuries. Even tennis and golfer’s elbow have been successfully treated with stem cell therapy.
Contact us at Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine at (757) 873-1554 or schedule online to discuss how this cutting-edge treatment can transform your life from one of pain and limitations to one of joy and increased mobility.