The human body has remarkable healing and regenerative properties.
Yet, there are times when some help is needed to promote tissue healing and manage pain. Enter stem cells. While these non-specific cells are naturally generated in response to an injury, there are sometimes barriers that keep them from getting where they need to be.
Other times, there are situations where natural healing processes are too slow or not resolving the problem. A possible solution is to take stem cells from one part of the body and inject them where they are needed. This process is known as stem cell therapy.
What Is Stem Cell Therapy?
A non-surgical, outpatient treatment, stem cell therapy (SCT) refers to the use of undefined cells not biologically wired for a specific function (e.g., lung cells, bone marrow cells) for the purpose of promoting healing and tissue regeneration (regrowth). What’s unique about stem cells is their ability to adopt the characteristics of different human cells. The added infusion of stem cells to areas where bone or soft tissues are damaged may contribute to:
- Shorter recovery periods
- Restored athletic performance
- Less painful rehab
- Being able to put off or avoid surgery
- Reduced dependence on pain medications
How Is SCT Performed?
Initial diagnostic tests that may include blood tests, X-rays, and MRI or CT scans are usually performed to identify a likely source of pain or determine the extent of the injuries to the affected tissues. If it’s determined that SCT may be beneficial, fat tissue is typically collected from either back areas or hips. This fat tissue is then specially prepared to separate stem cells.
The concentration of stem cells is then injected into the affected area. A local anesthetic is usually included to ease the sensations associated with administering the injection. There may be some temporary discomfort immediately following the injection, otherwise patients can usually resume their normal activities shortly after SCT is completed.
Who Might Benefit from It?
SCT may become an option if fractures or soft tissue injuries aren’t healing well, or when initial treatment attempts haven’t managed pain effectively. Stem cell therapy is also being used in attempts to help patients with spinal cord injuries improve function below the injured area.
Under certain circumstances, some of the 30 million or so Americans with osteoarthritis (OA) may also benefit from newer forms of SCT, which is also being used as part of efforts to improve mobility and range of motion to joints affected by other types of arthritis. SCT may also produce positive results for patients with:
- Degenerative disc disease that does not involve disc herniation
- ACL and meniscus tears
- Joint disorders and diseases
- Some type of cancer-related pain
- Tendinitis and similar soft tissue injuries
Stem cell therapy as a pain management treatment is sometimes combined with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, a procedure involving similar methods that’s done for similar purposes. Risks associated with stem cell and PRP therapies are considered minimal since injection materials come from the patient’s own body. The number of SCT treatments recommended will vary based on the extent of the injury or nature of the condition being treated and results experienced after the initial injection.