What is stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions?

Stem cell therapy is a medical treatment for a wide range of diseases and injuries. Stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions involves injecting your own processed bone marrow into an injured bone or joint. Bone marrow contains a certain type of stem cell that may help reduce inflammation, promote healing, and create healthy new tissue. 

A stem cell is a type of “simple” cell. The stem cell can produce many different types of more complex and specialized cells in the body when it divides. Stem cells can help create healthy new tissue where tissues have died. Stem cells also appear to help repair cells in tissues that are injured or have been damaged by disease.

Stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions is a relatively new medical treatment that researchers are actively investigating. Some treatments may only be available through a clinical trial at this time. The procedure is only one method used to treat orthopedic conditions. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.

Other procedures that may be performed

Doctors use stem cell therapy by itself or with other procedures to treat certain orthopedic injuries or diseases. These will vary depending on the specific disease or injury, and upon your doctor’s preferred techniques. Other procedures include:

  • Bone grafts to replace missing bone with a piece of healthy bone from another part of the body
  • Fat grafts to inject fat from another place in the body into the injured area. Fat grafts help prevent some joint complications. Fat also contains some types of stem cells. 
  • Physical therapy to improve joint mobility and function and quality of life
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection to promote tissue healing
  • Prolotherapy injection to stimulate healing

Why is stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions performed? 

Your doctor may recommend stem cell therapy to treat orthopedic diseases, conditions and injuries including: 

  • Bone fractures that have not healed with traditional treatment
  • Ligament injuries including sprains 
  • Osteoarthritis, a breakdown of the protective cartilage on the ends of the bones
  • Osteonecrosis, bone tissue that has been deprived of oxygen and died. It most often occurs in the thighbone (femur) upper arm bone, knees, shoulders, and ankles.
  • Tendon injuries and conditions including rotator cuff tears, meniscus tears, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendon rupture, and tennis elbow

Who performs stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions?

Orthopedic surgeons perform stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions. An orthopedic surgeon specializes in surgical treatment of diseases and conditions of the bones, joints, and connective tissues.

How is stem cell therapy for orthopedic conditions performed?

Your stem cell therapy for an orthopedic condition will be performed in an outpatient setting. Your doctor may recommend a few treatments spaced several weeks to a few months apart. The number and timing of treatments will depend on how much your condition improves over time and other factors. 

Stem cell therapy involves two separate procedures that may or may not take place the same day. The procedures generally include these steps:

  1. Your doctor will numb the back of your hip with an injection of local anesthetic, such as procaine (Novocain). 
  2. Your doctor will pass a needle into your hipbone and withdraw a small amount of bone marrow tissue. Bone marrow contains stem cells that can become muscle and bone cells. 
  3. A technician will spin and concentrate your bone marrow fluid in a machine called a centrifuge.  This creates a substance called bone marrow aspiration concentrate (BMAC).
  4. Your doctor will numb the skin near your injury with an injection of local anesthetic. Then your doctor will inject the BMAC in the area near your injury. Your doctor will likely use ultrasound to guide the BMAC injection. 
  5. You will go home the same day soon after your stem cell therapy treatment.