What’s the Deal with Stem Cells?

Stem cell therapy is becoming a hot topic in sports medicine.  Professional athletes have been getting this type of treatment for the past several years.  As these treatments have been discussed in the news media, my patients have started to ask, “Could this be right for me?”  The answer is challenging because this treatment is relatively new in orthopaedic surgery.   We don’t have many clinical trials to help guide our patients into this realm of stem cell therapy.  So, right now we are relying on a few studies, patient feedback, and personal experience of our physicians.

As wetry to figure out if this treatment is right for you, let’s start by defining stem cells.  Stem cells are cells within our body that have the ability to become any other cell.  They could turn into cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon or any other cell type when placed in the right environment   Stem cells are found in our bone marrow, adipose tissue, synovial tissue and blood.   This type of stem cell treatment is called autologous or from our own body.  Other ways to get stem cells are from other people called allogenic.  Today, most allogenic therapy is derived from placental tissue.  The idea behind using stem cell therapy is to put cells that haven’t decided what they will be into an area of injury for a patient.  Then, the body will have more of the tools that it needs in the injured area to promote healing.

In orthopaedic surgery, we also use growth factor therapy, most commonly known as PRP (platelet rich plasma).  Growth factor therapy is different from stem cell therapy.  The growth factors in the blood that recruit stem cells and other healing cells are harvested from the patient’s blood, concentrated, and then delivered to the site of injury.  The idea here is to load up the injured area with the factors that call on stem cells and other healing factors in the body to come over and help heal an injured area.

Both stem cell therapy and growth factor therapy are used in orthopaedics to promote muscle and tendon healing, improve pain and function in arthritic joints, and to augment healing at a surgery site.  At Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, we have all of these treatments available to our patients.  These treatments are not for everyone.  Currently, insurance companies view these treatments as experimental and typically do not cover the cost of stem cell or growth factor therapies.   If you would like more information, one of our physicians will be glad to help you figure out if this treatment is right for you.

Chad T. Price, MD

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