Arthritis pain is one of the most common complaints people have as they age. Natural wear and tear on joints accumulates over time, especially if you lead an active lifestyle or engage in repetitive activities. This can lead to chronic pain due to inflammation and damage to your joints and tendons.
There are numerous treatment options available, ranging from over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories to joint replacement. One of the most recent advances in arthritis pain relief is stem cell injections into the joints.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are cells that occur naturally in the body. They are not specialized cells, but they have unique properties that make them ideal for medical use: they can divide and reproduce themselves, and they can become a variety of other, more specific types of cells. For instance, a stem cell can evolve into the new cartilage or bone if the body needs it.
When stem cells are used to treat arthritis, they are harvested from the patient’s fat cells or bone marrow (both of which are rich in stem cells). The cells are most often drawn from the patient’s pelvic bone with a syringe. There is some temporary discomfort during this process, but it is minimized with local anesthetics. In some cases, sedation may be administered before harvesting the cells.
How Do Stem Cell Injections Provide Arthritis Pain Relief?
Stem cells are typically injected into painful, arthritic joints using small needles. Surgeons use medical imaging such as ultrasound to help guide the needle into place for precise delivery of the stem cells to the damaged area. In some cases, they can also be inserted into the joint during surgery.
For several weeks, these stem cells help rebuild worn cartilage. It appears that stem cell therapy also minimizes inflammation while releasing cytokines, proteins that slow the progression of arthritis and reduce pain. Most patients continue to see improvement or anywhere from three to six months after the injection procedure.
As with any procedure, there is a risk of side effects, but these are minimal with stem cell therapy. Some patients may experience mild, temporary stiffness and swelling at the injection site. This can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications and ice and is usually gone within a day or two of the procedure.
Who Can Benefit from Stem Cell Injections for Arthritis Relief?
Stem cell injections are usually done after other more conservative treatments have failed. If prescription pain relievers, physical therapy, and other non-invasive options aren’t working, stem cell injections may help you avoid surgical interventions.
Stem cell injections are more effective in treating large joints—such as the hip and knee—that have moderate rather than severe arthritis damage. If the damage has progressed too far, the injected cells may not be able to replace the missing bone or cartilage.
Stem cell injections are also effective for treating chronic tendon problems that haven’t responded well to more conventional treatments. For example, our orthopedic surgeons often use stem cell injections for treatment of the Achilles tendon and tendons of the shoulder and elbow.
Some people should not undergo stem cell injections for arthritis. These include patients who have a compromised immune system, former cancer patients who have not been in remission for at least five years, those with specific blood-based diseases, individuals on high-dose blood thinners, and patients with medical problems such as diabetes.
Am I A Candidate for Stem Cell Injections?
If you are interested in stem cell injections to alleviate the pain and inflammation of arthritis, contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians. At an initial appointment, your medical history and x-rays will be reviewed. After a physical exam, the doctor will discuss various treatment options with you and let you know whether you are a good candidate for stem cell injections. If you choose this option, you will be scheduled for the harvesting of your body’s stem cells.
While most of our patients report significant arthritis pain relief as a result of stem cell injections, there is no guarantee. This is still a relatively new, experimental treatment, and research continues into its effectiveness and long-term effects. Additionally, not all insurance plans will pay for stem cell treatments. If you are interested in learning more about stem cell injections for arthritis relief, please call Arkansas Surgical Hospital at (877) 891-9322 to schedule an appointment for a consultation.