Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Daniel Max.
When pain relievers just don’t reduce your arthritis pain enough and you’re contemplating a big step – such as joint replacement surgery – it may be time to consider the potential benefits of newer biologic treatments utilizing growth factors with stem cells as another option, according to orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Kevin D. Plancher, founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, a board-certified knee and shoulder orthopaedic surgeon with offices in New York City and Greenwich, CT.
Arthritis isn’t a condition to take lightly. Causing chronic pain, stiffness, swelling and other burdensome symptoms, arthritis affects 6.1 million people in the Canada that represents more than 20 percent of the population with one in five women and one in six men diagnosed with the condition. Arthritis does not discriminate by age. The risk increases as we get older. One in two older Canadians have arthritis. Knees, hips and small hand joints are the joints most commonly affected.
But in recent years, minimally invasive treatments using growth factors with some stem cells have increasingly come into the forefront. These treatments purport to offer arthritis sufferers another viable option for pain relief when over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, new long acting steroid injections or other conservative measures don’t help the patient alleviate their pain profile, according to Dr. Plancher.
“If you’ve endured arthritis pain for months or years and conservative treatments haven’t sufficiently eased your pain, joint replacement surgery may seem like your only option,” he says. “But many arthritis patients might benefit from these therapies, which have helped repair and heal joints in many animal studies.”
What do the treatments involve?
Growth factors with stem cell therapy is minimally invasive and fast. It is an office procedure in which these factors and cells are injected into joints damaged by arthritis to help repair dwindling cartilage and surrounding tissues and to reduce inflammation, therefore reducing pain. “Injections may need to be repeated for benefits to continue,” says Dr. Plancher.
How joints benefit
One of the hottest areas of medical research, especially in the knee joint, is with these growth factors. These therapies are showing promising effects in their ability to attempt to regenerate worn-out tissues such as cartilage or release substances that promote healing in nearby cells. Unfortunately, much of this research is lagging behind anecdotal results.
Unlike pain medications, which simply mask symptoms (if reducing them at all), these treatments are designed to actually reverse the breakdown of joint cartilage that’s causing arthritis pain. These cells attempt to stop the degenerative process and further protect the joint.
Unlike surgery, injections of these growth factors with stem cells have a low risk of infection. Plus, the scientific literature to date has reported these issues. Many orthopaedic surgeons are excited by this new technology but are holding final judgment until more scientific studies are performed.