What is a stem cell injection?

Stem cells are immature cells that can be developed into nearly any type of tissue. The connective tissue that forms ligaments, tendons, and the cartilage in joints is much slower to heal and regenerate than skin. Laboratory studies have suggested that stem cells can be used to regenerate tissue that has been damaged, like painful joints, ligaments, or tendons. Sources of stem cells include donated embryos, donated amniotic fluid, or the patient’s own fat and bone marrow. Stem cells cytokines (an anti-inflammatory agent naturally produced in the body), hyaluronic acid (good for joints and creation of new cartilage), and growth stimulators. Unlike steroid injections that provide only temporary relief, stem cell injections theoretically help to regenerate tissue and provide pain relief. However, studies on humans who have received stem cell injections are still new and have not yielded many results.

Am I a candidate for stem cell injection?

You might be a candidate for stem cell injections if you have arthritis, tendonitis, or some other musculoskeletal injury that is taking a long time to heal. The current research available suggests the patients who see the most benefit from stem cell injections are young patients who have mild cartilage injuries. In general, it will be up to your provider to guide you in deciding if stem cell injections are the right treatment option for you.

How long will the stem cell injection procedure take?

To harvest your stem cells, you will likely receive a mild sedative and the skin of your hip will be cleansed and numbed. A large needle will be inserted into your pelvis and your bone marrow is sucked into a syringe. Your stem cells will be separated from the bone marrow and other substances will be added to help it stick to the damaged cartilage. Stem cell harvesting and injection do not take place on the same day. For the injection of stem cells into your injured cartilage, your skin will be cleansed and numbed again. Your doctor will use ultrasound or fluoroscopy, which is real-time x-ray, to locate the damaged cartilage and guide the needle to it. The stem cell mixture will be injected into the cartilage and the needle remove.

How long will it take to recover from stem cell injection?

It is important to understand that stem cell injections are not indicated for immediate pain relief. In fact, your pain is likely to increase following the injection. If the injection is successful, you will hopefully experience more rapid healing of the injury than normal. Make sure to protect your injured joint and minimize use of the cartilage to allow for maximum healing. Continue your carefully constructed rehabilitation plan and be patient; stem cell injections do not cure injuries overnight.

References:

Goswani, G. (2016). Stem cell therapy for arthritis. Arthritis-health. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/injections/stem-cell-therapy-arthritis

Mandelbaum, B. (2017). Stem cells in sports medicine: Ready for prime time? Medscape. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/882226#vp_2