Stem cells are a type of cell in the body that have the ability to divide and turn into other types of desirable cells. For instance, if your heart tissue sustains cellular damage, nearby stem cells will naturally turn themselves into new heart cells to attempt to repair the damage. By injecting a controlled amount of adult stem cells into a damaged joint or muscle, regenerative techniques aim to facilitate and expedite the healing process and become stronger, without the need for surgery. The stem cells that we harvest from you are called mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) and can specialize into cartilage, ligament, tendon, bone, fat, muscle and other connective tissues. Stem cell treatments have been shown to be especially effective in dealing with the inflammatory component of degenerative arthritis. The treatment has also been suggested to be effective in hair regrowth and anti-aging applications of the face.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) and stem cells are not the same; however, both are critical in activating the body’s own natural healing response. PRP refers to cells called platelets, which help your body form clots to stop bleeding. Platelets and the liquid plasma they’re bathed in are the vehicles for growth factor transport and, once activated, release growth factors required for healing.
When a Platelet Rich Plasma injection is performed, a physician uses the patient’s own blood to separate platelets in a centrifuge. The platelets are then re-injected into the injured area, releasing growth factors that promote natural tissue healing.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, many famous athletes like Tiger Woods, tennis star Rafael Nadal and others have received Platelet Rich Plasma for various conditions such as sprained ligaments (like knees) and chronic tendon injuries. Some athletes have credited Platelet Rich Plasma with being able to return more quickly to competition.
Frequently Asked Questions
Stem Cell injections are primarily for painful joints. These injections, provide a non-invasive (non-surgical) treatment option, to provide long-lasting relief from chronic joint pain. The injections are performed under ultrasound guidance, as needed, to ensure proper placement of the stem cells. Can also be used for chronic tendonitis, some meniscal tears, muscle strains, ligament sprains, some cartilage injuries, limited rotator cuff tears and fractures that fail to heal.
In general, Stem Cell injections are advised for moderate osteoarthritis in the hip, knee, shoulder, ankle, or thumb, where there is not complete collapse of the joint space and not “bone on bone” changes. There are some medical issues (like lymphoma and leukemia) that will preclude you from having a stem cell procedure done.
- Patient with cancer history (such as prostate cancer or breast cancer), not in remission for at least 5 years
- Certain other malignancies or blood borne diseases that you are being treated for
- Patient with any current infection
- Patient who uses a high dose of coumadin
- General procedural contraindication
- Patients with multiple medical issues may not be good candidates (low testosterone, low vitamin D, hypothyroidism, diabetes, smoker).
This a partial list; there are other conditions that may limit your stem cell candidacy.
We most commonly use stem cell injections for joints such as hips and knees but also treat shoulders, ankles, great toes and thumbs. Stem cell treatment is also an option for chronic tendon issues that have been resistant to other treatments. These are typically in the elbow and Achilles tendon.
The final cost of this treatment will ultimately be determined by what particular injections are being done. The cost can vary by individual problem but it is not inexpensive. Fortunately there are financing options that make the procedure within reach of just about everyone.
Stem Cell therapy is typically not covered by your insurance company. If you decide you want to explore this treatment option, you will first speak with one of our financial counselors. He or she will work with you to determine if your insurance will pay or if you will need to pay out of pocket for the treatment.
Our physicians only provide stem cell treatment in Wilmington, NC at the Regenerative Medicine Clinic of Wilmington.
If you live within 3 hours of Wilmington, we will schedule a consultation for an appointment to review your radiology films (x-rays), conduct a physical exam, and determine if you are a good candidate or not.
If you live more than 3 hours away, please work with your local health care professional to send us the following:
- Recent x-rays, no more than a few months old, are required. Please see below for the type of x-ray views needed for the effected body parts.
Hip – Standing AP pelvis and frog lateral
Knee – Standing bilateral AP and lateral
Ankle – Standing AP, lateral and oblique
Shoulder – Grashey and axillary lateral
Thumb – AP, lateral and oblique
- Recent MRI if available, no more than a few months old
- Medical records (only pertaining to your injury that you are seeking treatment for)
Send your images and records to us for review – please include your name, address, phone number and email address. We will contact you with our recommendation with in 7-14 business days of receiving your records.
Bone marrow is the source of stem cells that we use. The cells are harvested with a simple aspiration performed in out clinic. We harvest the bone marrow stem cells (called BMAC) from the anterior iliac crest at the thick portion called the gluteal pillar.
There is some limited data suggesting an ability to regenerate cartilage in joints, but it also appears that whether or not the cartilage regenerates has little correlation with relief of pain. If there is significant spurring and significant loss of the joint space, there is little chance of cartilage regeneration.
Our experience is that most patients will have significant relief of pain around 1-2 months post injection. This will often continue to improve for the first 3-6 months after the stem cell procedure. There are patients who will not get any improvement at all from this procedure, probably around 10-20%. This is still an emerging hi-tech treatment, and there have not been a lot of long term outcomes studies done so far so we are still figuring out who is an ideal candidate to have this done.
Typically we do one stem cell injection that may be followed up 6 weeks later with a platelet rich plasma injection. All cases are individualized and many components of your care will be taken into consideration and may be modified as your treatment progresses. Our scientific protocols are continually evolving, so this is ultimately decided on a case-by-case basis.
If you are flying (and you are not the pilot), you may fly home the same day, but there will be increased pain/discomfort after the procedure. If you are driving, you should have a driver, as there can be some mild to moderate discomfort in the first few hours following the procedure.