What Is Cell Therapy?
Cell therapy consists of harvesting a patient’s own cells from fat tissue or bone marrow and using those cells to treat an area of injury. Certain cells have the potential to initiate a natural repair process by creating new healthy cells. This form of therapy uses the body's natural substances and is a minimally invasive treatment alternative to traditional surgery, often with less recovery time.
Certain cells in the body are 'multi-potent'. This means that they can develop (“differentiate”) into a wide variety of other specialized cell types including muscle, tendon, and cartilage.
Due to their ability to help create new cells in existing healthy tissue, stems cells are used in a variety of orthopaedic therapies. Sports medicine physicians and orthopedic surgeons are primarily focusing on adult mesenchymal cells. These are multi-potent cells that can differentiate into bone cells, muscle or cartilage cells.
Physicians are developing these orthopedic, or musculoskeletal, stem cell procedures to treat bone fractures and breaks, restore cartilage in arthritic joints, and heal ligaments and tendons. The restorative potential of stem cells has also created a flurry of research and clinical applications aimed at treating osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and spinal cord injury.
This form of therapy can serve as a nonsurgical treatment alternative for many conditions, including:
- Cartilage tears
- Tendon scarring and tears
Each individual’s response to treatment is different, and complete pain relief or full functionality cannot be guaranteed. Some studies demonstrate the efficacy of stem cell therapy in improving pain relief and increasing function after treatment. Various studies have demonstrated evidence of cartilage repair in both humans and animals, and many more studies are ongoing.
Post Therapy Considerations
Patients who have had cell therapy are advised to minimize excessive activity (specifically, prolonged weight-bearing and exercise) for two months after the procedure to allow healing to occur. In the case of arthritis, depending on the extent and location, doctors may recommend that the patient wear a brace for several months after the procedure.
Although stem cell treatment has been in practice for almost 10 years, most insurance companies still consider it experimental and do not cover treatments.
The main risks of cell therapy are the same as any minimally invasive procedure, including the risk of bleeding, infection, and some pain during and after the procedure. Working with a qualified physician can minimize these risks.