How Stem Cell Therapy Helps With Joint Pain

Athletes put their bodies to the test on a regular basis. In pursuit of greater strength, faster speed and better balance, athletes undergo intense training regimens and perform at the edge of their limits every time they compete. This is the commitment required to become a champion, but sports injuries can be the price paid for athletic excellence. The last thing you want as an athlete is to be sidelined by an injury.

Sports injuries can often be treated effectively, but some mark the end of an athlete’s career, and some result in lasting damage that persists well into retirement. Many athletes develop osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative disease of the cartilage, bone and connective tissues, and struggle with chronic joint pain long after they have left their competitive days behind. Fortunately, ongoing innovations in medical technology provide better and better treatment options with significant advantages over conventional approaches. An increasing number of athletes, both active and retired, are looking to regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy for relief.

The Healthy Joint vs The Hurting Joint

Joints are points of connection that link one bone to another and facilitate movement of the musculoskeletal system. Some open and closed like a hinge, while others allow for more complex motions, such as rotation. Joints contain different types of fibrous connective tissue — ligaments, tendons and cartilage — that ensure the system remains strong and stable. When these elements work in harmony and your joints are healthy, you tackle physical tasks with ease.

OA and joint injuries are characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the joint. In the face of damage, the joint grows unstable, and enough damage can result in bone grinding directly against bone when you move. This wear and tear can occur slowly over a span of years, or it can be accelerated by an injury or infection. With cartilage degeneration, even simple, routine activities are painful. Affected joints can become stiff, tender and swollen. These symptoms often worsen with age, limiting range of motion. It can be extremely challenging to stay active, sleep soundly and maintain a positive state of mind in the face of chronic joint pain.

Common Causes of Joint Pain For Athletes

Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are vulnerable to joint injuries and to developing degenerative joint disease due to years of intense physical exertion. Because of its complex structure and weight-bearing function, the knee is one of the most frequently injured joints. The shoulder, the body’s most mobile yet least stable joint, is also prone to injury. Common causes of joint pain for athletes include:

  • Dislocated joints
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Tears of the ligaments
  • Tears of the tendons
  • Inflammation in the joints
  • Osteoarthritis

The Emerging Field of Regenerative Medicine

The human body is remarkable in its capacity to heal itself. Regenerative medicine harnesses this power by using a patient’s own biological materials, such as stem cells or platelet-rich plasma (PRP), to repair or replace damaged tissue. By mobilizing the body’s inherent healing resources, regenerative therapies can target the source of pain at a cellular level, expedite the healing process, restore function and mobility, and offer long-term relief from joint pain. A growing number of athletes and doctors are exploring the potential of this emerging medical field to treat musculoskeletal sports injuries and chronic conditions caused by overuse.

The Basic Building Blocks of the Human Body

Every aspect of your body is made of cells. Cells make up your organs, your blood, your bones, your skin – there are dozens of different kinds of cells, each of which has a unique function in your body. Stem cells are the body’s raw materials. Unlike other cells, a stem cell is not specialized to take on a specific role. Instead, it has the extraordinary ability to develop into many different types of cell, meaning it has the potential to form into any tissue in your body. Stem cells are a key part of your body’s internal repair mechanism. When a specialized cell is lost or damaged by injury or disease, a stem cell can transform into that type of cell and take its place. Doctors and scientists see many possible uses for stem cells in medicine.

What Is Stem Cell Therapy?

Stem cell therapy uses an individual’s own stem cells to aid in healing and pain relief. The regenerative cells are harvested from the patient’s fat cells, bone marrow or blood supply using a minimally-invasive procedure. Once the cells are collected, they are processed in a specialized centrifuge. The concentrated stem cells are then injected back into the problem area to stimulate tissue repair, reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Stem cells can be utilized to treat degenerative joint disease and a wide variety of sports injuries, including damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

The Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for Athletes

The rapidly evolving field of regenerative medicine shows great promise in sports medicine. Athletes are particularly susceptible to injuries and medical conditions that are well-suited for treatment with stem cells and other regenerative therapies. NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, golfer Tiger Woods, tennis pro Rafael Nadal and basketball star Kobe Bryant are a few of the top athletes who have reportedly embraced regenerative treatments. Stem cell therapy has potential benefits for professional athletes and hobbyists alike:

  • Can be used to treat acute injuries as well as chronic conditions
  • Can be used alone or in combination with conventional therapies
  • Lower risk of rejection or adverse reaction due to the absence of foreign agents
  • Virtually painless procedures with no anesthesia and no scars
  • Expedites the healing process and shortens recovery time
  • May eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals and/or invasive surgery
  • Decreases injury-related inflammation and pain
  • Permanently restores the structure and function of damaged tissue

Stem Cell Therapy vs. Surgery

Sports medicine often relies on surgery to repair or replace an athlete’s damaged joint. While surgical approaches have advantages, and are necessary in some circumstances, they are also more invasive and risky. Healing requires months of recovery and intensive rehabilitation to restore pre-injury function to the joint. This is devastating news for an athlete who is eager to return to competition and anxious about whether they will be capable of playing at an advanced level.

With minimal pain, reduced downtime and significantly fewer risks, it’s easy to see why stem cell therapy is in increasingly widespread use among athletes. Stem cell joint injection is a relatively quick procedure performed with a local anesthetic and a sedative. Stem cells are harvested with a needle using x-ray guidance, requiring no incisions or stitches and leaving no scarring behind. The injected joint feels sore and tender for two to three days after the procedure, but discomfort is minimal and activities can be resumed gradually after a few days of rest.

Joint replacement surgery may not be necessary if stem cell therapy or another minimally-invasive regenerative technique yields adequate improvement. If surgery becomes necessary in the future, undergoing stem cell therapy does not prohibit surgery from taking place on the same joint. Stem cell injections administered postoperatively may also help optimize results from a surgical procedure by inducing a more robust cartilage healing response.

Can Stem Cell Therapy Treat My Joint Pain?

Stem cell therapy offers the exciting potential of an alternative to surgery for treating osteoarthritis and joint injuries. Though it is a relatively new technique, significant progress has been made in understanding the components of successful stem cell therapy and clinical studies show positive results. Stem cell therapy is recommended on a case-by-case basis after evaluation by a physician who specializes in pain relief. Individual doctors follow their own protocols for determining who is eligible for stem cell treatment for sports injuries.

Athletes are not the only patients who stand to benefit from stem cell therapy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that joint pain from arthritis will be an issue for 78 million people in the United States by 2040. Joint pain affects men and women of all ages and from all walks of life. The ability to regenerate cartilage using stem cells has the potential to change the game for professional athletes, recreational players, fitness lovers and anyone who hopes to live a healthy, active life.

Joint Pain Relief Is a Phone Call Away

It is the competitive nature of athletes to push the limits of the mind and body. Advances in injury treatment are continually addressing the challenge of treating sports-related injuries with minimally-invasive techniques and reduced recovery time. At All-Star Pain Management & Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Zed and his staff understand the complexities of an athlete’s physical needs and have successfully treated a variety of sports injuries using stem cell therapy. Call our office today at 443-808-1808 to learn how regenerative medicine can help you feel better and get back to the game you love.