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​Stem Cell Treatment vs. Corticosteroid Injections for Knee Pain

Posted at 4:04 PM on Feb 25, 2019


How are you treating your knee pain? Is what you’re doing working?

If you have osteoarthritis, a progressive type of knee arthritis, you probably know how challenging it can be to find a type of therapy that works. You may have worked your way through what feels like dozens of treatments, only to find your pain recurring.

Patients with osteoarthritis, also known as OA, usually start their treatment journeys with physical therapy (PT), support devices, and lifestyle changes. Sometimes, dietary supplements and pain medications can also help.

But if these treatments are no longer controlling your pain – or never worked to begin with – your doctor may recommend surgery.

Corticosteroids – An Alternative to Knee Surgery?

While there are some patients who welcome the idea of knee surgery if there’s a chance it will relieve their pain, others prefer to keep it a last resort. If you fall into this category, you may want to look into steroid treatments.

Corticosteroid knee injections can help to relieve osteoarthritis pain by reducing inflammation in the affected joint. Studies have shown that these injections can reduce discomfort for one to three weeks, but that the benefits drop off between four and 24 weeks.

Potential Side Effects of Corticosteroids

Immediately after treatment, patients often experience an increase in pain and swelling. This generally resolves itself quickly, but repeated use of the steroid can cause damage to bone and cartilage.

Because of this accumulating tissue damage, experts advise no more than three or four steroid injections per year. Patients with joint instability or deformities may need to avoid steroid injections altogether.

Another Alternative – Stem Cell Treatment for OA

As the general population ages, researchers in the medical field have begun to channel more resources into the development of osteoarthritis treatments. One high-potential discovery has been mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy.

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are part of the body's self-repair system. They may have the ability to develop into different kinds of cells, which means that they may be able to seek out and repair damaged tissue in a number of different body systems. Their regenerative properties make them particularly useful in developing treatments for degenerative conditions like OA that, until recently, inevitably led to increasing pain and decreasing function.

The Stem Cell Treatment Journey

One of the best parts of stem cell treatment is that the cells themselves come from the patient's own body, not from a laboratory or a cadaver. When a patient undergoes stem cell treatment for knee pain, a physician harvests stem cells from their bone marrow, usually from the hip. The process is quick and typically requires only a local numbing agent.

The stem cells undergo processing in a laboratory, where a centrifuge separates them from the other cells contained in the bone marrow. A physician then injects the stem cells into the affected knee.

Stem Cell Treatment for Knee Pain – The Benefits

Reduced Pain and Improved Function

Stem cell treatment may reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis. In a recent study of 18 patients, 12 women and six men, patient comfort and function improved significantly between the treatment and follow-up (which took place, on average, 24.3 months after the procedure).

Regenerated Tissue

In 2008, a team of researchers examined the effect of stem cell treatment on a 36-year-old man with debilitating knee pain. They followed up with the patient after three months and found that not only were the patient's pain scores lower, but he actually had significantly more healthy meniscus tissue than he had before the treatment.

Because MSCs enable physicians to actually heal the damage of osteoarthritis, these treatments have the potential to change the lives of patients with knee pain.

Stem Cells Treatment vs. Corticosteroids

Both stem cells and corticosteroids can reduce a patient's knee pain in the short term. However, the degree of pain relief between the two treatments differs significantly, as do the side effects.

Corticosteroids reduce pain reliably for a matter of weeks. Stem cell treatment has shown positive effects months later.

Corticosteroids can damage joints and hasten the progression of arthritis. Stem cell treatment can actually rebuild healthy tissue.

When it comes to comfort, function, and structural integrity, stem cell treatment comes out ahead.

How to Get Stem Cell Injections

The most important thing when looking into stem cell injections is to find an experienced physician. At Twin Cities Pain and Regenerative Medicine, a Minnesota stem cell treatment center, you will find a team of medical professionals who are well-versed in the latest stem cell treatment techniques for knee pain and other types of pain.

Stem cell therapy does not work for everyone. At this time, the FDA has not approved it as a treatment for musculoskeletal conditions.

At Twin Cities, we combine clinical expertise with a total commitment to increasing our patients' quality of life. Contact the office today to find out if we can help you.