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Stem cell therapy is one of the fastest-growing and most attention-grabbing procedures in the world of regenerative medicine. This revolutionary procedure uses adult stem cells, which can be found throughout the body, to promote healing and drive recovery. While the procedure holds great promise, there are a lot of nuances to the procedure that only a properly trained regenerative medicine physician will be able to grapple with.
What Is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells are the body’s raw material; every cell in your body started out as a stem cell and, through the process of differentiation, grew and changed into its ultimate form. In their raw form, stem cells are “undifferentiated,” meaning they still have the potential to grow into any cell type–nerve, muscle, tendon, ligament, brain, etc. They take three primary forms in regenerative medicine: embryonic stem cells, which form in the womb of a developing embryo; adult stem cells, which can be found throughout the body well into adulthood; and perinatal stem cells, which are harvested from the umbilical cord shortly after birth. Most stem cell therapies used in musculoskeletal treatment today rely on adult stem cells, although there are some treatments that use these other stem cells, too.
The ultimate goal of the treatment is to promote the repair response of diseased, dysfunctional, or injured tissue using stem cells and/or their derivatives. Musculoskeletal stem cell therapy relies on cells instead of donor organs, which are much more limited in supply, giving the procedure a much wider potential reach.
There are two principal types of stem cell therapy: adipose-derived stem cell therapy and bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) therapy. Adipose tissue, which we commonly refer to as fat, is found throughout the body and is known to contain concentrations of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), stem cells which have the ability to differentiate into a variety of tissue types throughout the body. Adipose-derived stem cells are autologous stem cells, so the risk of rejection is very low, and harvesting them is much easier than stem cells sourced from bone marrow, which is housed within the bones themselves.
However, a significant percentage of our body’s adult stem cells are located in the bone marrow, so it is a very fruitful place to harvest stem cells. During a bone marrow aspirate concentrate treatment, your physician will harvest stem cells from specific sites in the hip under local sedation, typically three to five in total. Most reputable regenerative medicine providers will perform this procedure under ultrasound or fluoroscopic-guidance, as the best harvesting locations are small and easily missed if the procedure is performed blind. These harvested stem cells are then prepared to create an injectable product to can be deposited right where it is needed.
Benefits Of Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is a minimally invasive procedure, so it has a number of advantages over most traditional surgical procedures. It does not require an incision of any kind, so the risk of infection or serious complication is very low compared to surgery, and recovery time is much shorter. It is also done in the outpatient setting under local anesthesia, so patients go home on the same day. Finally, stem cell therapy has been shown to be very effective in delaying or completely preventing a patient’s need for surgical intervention.
What Can Stem Cell Therapy Treat?
There is a continually expanding body of evidence to suggest that stem cell therapy can help promote healing and recovery from acute and/or chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Furthermore, stem cell therapy can be used all over the body, so anyone suffering from an orthopedic injury or disorder could be a candidate for one of these procedures. Some of the conditions that might benefit from a regenerative medicine procedure:
- Rotator cuff tears;
- Labral tears of hip or shoulder;
- Meniscus tears of knee;
- Spine disorders, including sciatica and degenerative disc disease;
- Ligament or tendon tears; and
- Many other muscle injuries.
While stem cell therapy has the potential to provide relief from a number of conditions, it is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. There are a number of nuances to the procedure that many providers glaze over in a rush to offer this revolutionary procedure. If you think you might benefit from stem cell therapy, the first step is to come see our team of specialists at RestorePDX. We will help you diagnose and understand your condition, discuss all relevant treatment options with you, and lay out the best path forward to recovery.
What To Expect
If you have decided to undergo stem cell therapy, it will likely be one of two procedures: adipose-derived stem cell or bone marrow aspirate concentrate therapy. The principal difference between these procedures is how and from where the stem cells are extracted; once they have been withdrawn from your body, the process for both procedures is the same. In adipose-derived stem cell therapy, fat tissue will be withdrawn from the body and processed to extract the mesenchymal stem cells; for bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) therapy, your physician will harvest bone marrow from three to five locations in your hip and then process the marrow to extract the stem cells for injection. Once your stem cells have been extracted and processed, they will be reinjected directly at the site of your injury with the aid of ultrasound or fluoroscopic guidance. This allows us to ensure the stem cells are being delivered precisely where they are needed. Some of the sites we target for stem cell therapy are mere millimeters across, so they can be missed even with imaging guidance!
After the procedure is over, you will be helped up and out of the room, and you will be released home, but you will need someone to drive you home just to be safe. If you have any pain or swelling at the injection or harvest sites, you can take over-the-counter pain medication. In the days and weeks following your procedure, you will start to slowly work back into your daily activities, under the guidance of your care team at RestorePDX.
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