The power of the body to heal itself is amazingly evident in a promising newer treatment known as regenerative stem cell therapy, which orthopaedic surgeon Kevin D. Plancher, MD, founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, is tapping more frequently to help restore pain-free movement in patients with stubborn knee or shoulder problems.
Part of a branch of healthcare known as regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy uses immature, self-renewing cells found in the bone marrow to rejuvenate a wide variety of tissues. This rapidly evolving field, the focus of mounting research, is helping people heal faster and more naturally as well as avoid surgery and other more invasive treatments, says Dr. Plancher, who founded the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Plancher Orthopaedics and completed one of his two fellowships at the world-renowned Steadman-Hawkins Clinic, focusing on sports medicine and reconstruction of the shoulder and knee.
“Stem cells are progressively being shown to regenerate and repair bodily tissues damaged due to age or injury,” he explains. “Professional athletes have been undergoing this type of stem cell therapy for years to come back from otherwise-devastating sports injuries. Now the rest of us can benefit from it, too. Stem cell therapy isn’t new – but the advent of improved technology and techniques means stem cells can now be used to help even more people with orthopaedic problems to heal and be delivered with an injection in the office.”
Tips on Understanding how Stem Cells Work to Repair Tissues
But how does regenerative stem cell therapy work? For orthopaedic injuries and other damage, a type of stem cell found in adult bone marrow called mesenchymal stem cells, or MSCs, is desired. These stem cells readily multiply and give rise to a variety of so-called structural cells in the body, such as muscle, bone, fat, tendons, ligaments or cartilage.
The process is remarkably simple and quick: In a doctor’s office, in a freezer at minus 80 degrees, a vial of cells is removed and injected, after the patient warms the cells in their hands for four minutes, into the knee, shoulder, wrist or elbow. It is no longer necessary to remove cells from a patient’s hipbones.
The treatment is currently being used to treat knee pain due to conditions such as arthritis, meniscus tears, ACL ligament injuries, overuse injuries and degenerative conditions. In the shoulder, stem cells are being used to improve arthritis, rotator cuff tears, labral tears and other injuries, says Dr. Plancher, also a Clinical Professor in Orthopaedics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
“The stem cells are believed to bathe injured tissues in a concentrated slurry of healing cells, prompting the body to heal more quickly,” he says. “After a short period of rest, many patients are able to regain flexible, pain-free movement, and patients who hope to regain their athletic prowess are often thrilled with the results.”
Tips on Understanding the Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy Compared to Alternatives
Chronic, painful orthopaedic problems in the knees or shoulders that haven’t improved with conservative, non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy are often candidates for regenerative stem cell therapy, Dr. Plancher notes.
“Stem cell therapy is essentially your body healing itself,” says Dr. Plancher, who lectures globally on issues related to orthopaedic procedures and sports injury management. “For many patients, it works out beautifully and they recover much quicker than they would from more invasive treatment. It’s an option that definitely deserves close consideration.”
Kevin D. Plancher, MD, is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.