Pain caused by osteoarthritis – it is one of the most common complaints we come across at Charlottesville Orthopaedic Center. Chances are that you or someone you know has experience with this degenerative condition. For some patients, the pain can be constant and brutal. We employ many different techniques to diagnose and treat this condition, but among the most promising for certain clients is stem cell therapy. By using the healing power of the patient’s own stem cells, relief from osteoarthritis can often be found, especially for patients who are not seeing results from traditional treatments.

What is Osteoarthritis?

We often hear about people suffering from “arthritis.” This term is actually a catchall for a number of different conditions that cause pain and swelling in the joints, including osteoarthritis. In this particular type of arthritis, the joints in the body suffer from a degeneration of cartilage. The most common joints affected are the hip, knee, shoulder, ankle, and thumb. These joints contain cartilage that is smooth and slippery, creating a surface that makes it easy for them to move around. But with osteoarthritis, that cartilage begins to wear away, causing pain and difficulty when moving the joint. In severe cases, the cartilage can wear away entirely, leaving bone rubbing against bone.

There are a number of treatment options available for those suffering from osteoarthritis. Which treatment a doctor recommends is dependent on how advanced the osteoarthritis is and how much pain the patient is experiencing. Traditional treatments range from over the counter pain medications, to recommendations for exercise and stretching routines, to physical therapy. In extreme cases, joint replacement may be necessary, but many patients want to avoid the invasive surgery that comes with the latter option.

For those wanting to avoid surgery and improve their osteoarthritis prognosis, stem cell therapy is a welcome option to a traditional treatment regimen.

What is Stem Cell Therapy?

Stem cell therapy is revolutionizing how orthopaedists treat certain conditions, including osteoarthritis. This treatment is unique, in that it uses the body’s own healing resources to improve arthritis symptoms.

Here’s how it works: the cells in our bodies are specialized, each performing its own unique task. But stem cells are different – they have the capability to differentiate into many different cell types responsible for repair or growth of bone, cartilage, muscle, marrow, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue.  When stem cells are injected into joints that have been damaged by osteoarthritis, they have the ability to transform into cells that make up cartilage, thereby helping to heal the damage caused by degeneration; there is also a release of growth factors with this process that stimulates biologic activity that promotes healing.  Instead of just treating the symptoms, stem cell therapy is actually helping to reverse some of the damage caused by osteoarthritis, providing relief to patients without the need for surgery.

The stem cells used in this type of therapy are found in a patient’s bone marrow, which will be harvested from the pelvis bone. This process is considered minimally invasive, but does require a puncture into the bone which is done sterilely to reduce the risk of infection. The stem cells are then separated from the bone marrow and prepared for injection into the joint requiring treatment. The entire process takes less than an hour under local anesthesia, with dull, aching pain being the most common side effect.

Does It Work?

Because this therapy is so new, conclusive research on the effects of stem cell therapy on treating osteoarthritis is lacking. However, researchers are currently working to learn more on how well this treatment works across a broad spectrum of patients and which applications of the therapy are most effective.

Meanwhile, here at our practice, we have seen many patients who have not responded to traditional treatments find pain relief through stem cell therapy. Some patients see improvement in as few as one treatment, while others need to repeat the process to begin to see benefits.

Because stem cell therapy is so new, it is not yet covered by many insurance plans. Cost for treatment can vary substantially, depending on which joint is affected and how much damage has occurred.  At Charlottesville Orthopaedic Center, our cost is $4,500 which is substantially less expensive than is found in larger metropolitan centers without compromising any quality in your treatment.   

Am I A Candidate?

The best candidates for stem cell therapy are those who have exhausted other avenues of treatment but are hesitant to explore surgical options. Patients whose osteoarthritis does not involve a complete collapse of joint space or bone-on-bone contact are more likely to see a positive result from this type of treatment.

There are a number of conditions that may preclude some patients from receiving stem cell therapy. These include: those with a history of cancer that has not been in remission for more than five years, those with an active infection, those with certain blood borne diseases, among other conditions.

If you are interested in pursuing stem cell therapy, the best way to see if you are a candidate is to visit us for an initial appointment. From there, Dr. Nielsen will outline what your treatment options are, whether you are a candidate for stem cell therapy, and develop a personalized schedule for your treatments. To schedule your appointment, please call (434) 244-8412, or click here to use our online scheduling tool. As always, please feel free to contact our office if you have any questions about whether this type of therapy could be right for you.