Stem Cell Therapy: A Boon to Arthritis Sufferers

stem cell therapy, arthritis, suffering, get well

If you’re one of the 31 million Americans suffering from osteoarthritis, you’re probably all too familiar with the joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation that have become a part of your daily living. Traditional treatments for arthritis typically include over-the-counter medications to reduce pain and inflammation, physical therapy, and activity modification. All of these methods can help relieve pain and stiffness, and even restore function and mobility in the joints. But they don’t do anything to help repair the damage caused by arthritis.

During the past decade or so, researchers have explored the idea of using stem cells to stimulate natural healing and tissue repair in and around arthritic joints. And so far, the results have been encouraging.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are special “blank-slate” cells that are capable of developing into any type of tissue, including ligament, tendon and even cartilage tissue. Early stem cell therapy focused on using stem cells from fetuses (called embryonic stem cells). Today, doctors are able to extract stem cells from many sources, including a patient’s own fatty tissue and bone marrow. At Hughes Orthopedics, Dr. Hughes typically extracts stem cells from the patient’s own fat or bone marrow. When that’s not an option, he uses donated stem cells for the therapy.

When stem cells are injected into an area of injury in the body, special proteins act on the cells, causing them to “differentiate” or transform into specific types of tissue. It’s this ability to transform into any type of new, healthy tissue that makes stem cells so important in regenerative medicine.

Stems cell therapy for arthritis treatment

Arthritis involves a lot of inflammation in and around your joints. Stem cell therapy works by repairing and restoring tissues damaged by inflammation, so you can enjoy improved joint function and a significant reduction in painful symptoms. When injected directly into your joint, stem cells go to work to produce new, healthy cartilage, replacing cartilage that’s been damaged or worn away by chronic inflammation. Plus, stem cells have "built-in" anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in and around the joint structures.

Stem cells can also be used to repair damaged connective tissues around your joint. When the ligaments and tendons that control joint movement are injured or damaged, that can also have an effect on how well your joint works. During your initial evaluation, Dr. Hughes will be able to determine the precise placement of the stem cell injections for optimal results based on your needs and symptoms. Typically, tissue repair occurs within several weeks following your injections.

Stem cell injections vs. steroid injections

When more conservative treatment options like medication and physical therapy aren’t effective in relieving the symptoms of arthritis, corticosteroid injections are often recommended as a “second-line” treatment. Usually referred to simply as “steroids,” these injections help modulate immune system activity to relieve inflammation around the joint. Usually, steroids are combined with anesthetics to help provide immediate pain relief.

While steroid injections can provide relief for many patients, there are limitations to what the therapy can do. First, some studies indicate steroid injections can actually do more harm than good in a small subset of patients, including people with active inflammation. Second, you’re limited in how often you can have steroid injections. If they’re given too often, they can cause damage to tendons and ligaments that support your joints.

Because stem cells are derived from your own body or from sterile donor grafts, stem cell therapy doesn’t have the same risks as steroids. It won’t damage your ligaments or tendons; it can actually repair damage in the soft and connective tissues that support normal joint function.

Get rid of your painful arthritis symptoms

Stem cell therapy may be in used in combination with other arthritis treatments like physical therapy, or it can be used on its own. To learn more about stem cell therapy and to find out if it could help you with your arthritis symptoms, book an appointment online today.

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