The human body has a remarkable ability to heal itself. However, it sometimes needs a helping hand.
This is essentially what stem cell therapy (SCT) does. Typically involving the use of adult (somatic) stem cells which come from other parts of the patient’s own body, SCT could be a much-appreciated source of pain management, or a way to speed up the healing and recovery process.
Here’s what you need to know about stem cell therapy, why it might be recommended, and how it may benefit you.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated human cells that have the unique ability to adopt the characteristics of other cells. Depending on where stem cells are used, they may “turn into” bone cells, cartilage cells, soft tissue cells, or fat cells. Some types of stem cells are being used in attempt to help victims of spinal cord injuries regain sensation and movement. Other forms of SCT may help restore joint flexibility for patients with arthritis.
How Are Stem Cells Obtained?
The human body naturally stores stem cells in certain locations for use when an injury occurs. Two of the most common locations for harvesting (collecting stem cells) are the hip bone (iliac bone) and fat cells in parts of the back area. When collected from the hip, stem cells are taken from bone marrow with a needle during an outpatient procedure. After bone marrow or fat cells are collected, stem cells are separated in a laboratory and prepared for injection.
What Conditions/Injuries May Be Treated with SCT?
Stem cell therapy is often used to promote tissue healing and cell regeneration in areas where soft tissues are damaged. This usually includes areas around joints. Some patients see positive results with SCT for certain sources of spine-related pain, such a degenerative disc disease (DDD), spinal facet syndrome, and sacroiliac (SI) joint pain. SCT may also be used to treat the following conditions or injuries:
- Chronic partial rotator cuff tears
- Symptoms related to pinched nerves (chronic radiculopathy)
- Muscle, ligament, and tendon tears not healing well
- Tendonitis, tennis elbow, and similar inflammation-based joint conditions
- Plantar fasciitis
- Cartilage tears in the knee
How Are Stem Cells Injected?
Image tests are usually done beforehand to identify the specific source of injury. A numbing medication or local anesthetic is used to ease discomfort at the injection site. A needle is inserted, typically with ultrasound or fluoroscopic guidance to ensure accuracy of needle placement, and the stem cell mixture is injected. There may be some slight discomfort or irritation around the injection site, although this is usually temporary.
As for number of injections needed, some patients see positive results with a single treatment, while others may have conditions or injuries that respond better to 2-3 injections spaced out over a brief period of time. Results will vary with SCT. However, it usually takes a few months for the newly injected stem cells to produce noticeable benefits. Risks associated with stem cell therapy are generally considered minimal, partly because your own stem cells are used.