How Stem Cells May Help Joint Pain

As the days of leaf raking wind down and the season for snow shovelling begins, just the thought of bending and lifting is enough to make your back hurt!  Besides learning to lift properly with your legs, take frequent breaks and shovel often rather than wait for the snow to pile up, there are a number of new therapies available to treat joint pain.  One of the newest treatments used in orthopedics is the injection of stem cells to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

If you are an older adult, chances are pretty good you have at least one knee, hip, shoulder or back area that gives you trouble.  And while surgery may not yet be called for, treatment for joint pain should start early to help prevent pain and further damage.

According to a recent Orthopaedics Health Essentials report by the Cleveland Clinic, stem cell injections are becoming more widely available to help treat joint damage and pain.  Cells are harvested from your bone marrow or fat or come from a donor.  Cells are then injected into your joint, ligament or tendon.  In theory, because stem cells have the ability to multiply and form into specialized cell types, they have the potential to heal damaged tissue. 

Although no ill effects have been reported to date in relation to cell-based injection therapy, there is a fairly wide range of what is considered to be “stem cell” treatment.  This therapy is very new and much still needs to be discovered about how often treatments should be done, if they can actually repair joint damage and what are the potential risk factors.  Harvesting cells from bone marrow or fat appear to have the greatest potential for complications including infection.

The United States Food and Drug Administration warns patients to stay safe by making sure that any stem cell treatment is either FDA-approved or is being studied under an Investigational New Drug Application.  Learn more about stem cell therapies on the FDA website here.  Patients can also search for a clinical trial using stem cell injections by following this link to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s database.