Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that, when stimulated, have the potential to become other types of cells, making them especially useful in the treatment of injuries and tissue damage. Stem cells can be derived from a patient’s own fat (in the belly or buttocks) or bone tissue (usually from the hip area) and then reinjected into a site of injury. Once injected into the body, local growth factors act on the stem cells, causing them to differentiate, or change, into the cells in the local area where they can replace cells damaged by disease or illness.
Stem cell therapy is used to stimulate healing in many areas of the body and can be especially helpful in treating damage in bone and soft tissues like ligaments, tendons, and muscles, as well as cartilage. It’s commonly used to treat chronic back pain that doesn’t respond to physical therapy, and it can also be used to treat joint damage due to osteoarthritis in the knees and other joints. Ideally, stem cell therapy can help patients avoid or delay some types of surgery including spine surgery and joint replacement.
Stem cell therapy is performed as an outpatient procedure, with extraction and reintroduction of stem cells performed on the same day. During the procedure, stem cells are extracted and then processed to separate the cells from other materials. Extraction can be performed using local anesthetics to numb the area. Next, the cells are reinjected into the injury site where they can immediately begin to differentiate and stimulate tissue repair and regeneration. During extraction and injection of the cells, a special X-ray device called a fluoroscope will be used to guide needle placement for optimal accuracy.
In most cases, patients will experience optimal benefits about one to three months after treatment, once the stem cells have a chance to differentiate and replace damaged tissue. Most patients experience benefits from a single treatment, but when needed, treatment may be repeated.