People considering stem cell treatment for arthritis want to know Is it safe? and Is it effective?
Most stem cell therapy using adult stem cells is considered safe because the stem cells are collected from the patient, minimizing the risk of an unwanted reaction. The most common side effects are temporary swelling and pain.1
While most stem cell therapy for arthritis is considered safe, it does carry the same risks as any other medical procedure, such as a small risk of infection. Risk may be increased if:
See What Are Stem Cells?
Some research suggests stem cell therapy engaging in these kinds of practices may elevate the risk of tumors.2
As with most regenerative medicine treatments, research is ongoing, and FDA regulations are relatively new and subject to change.
Whether or not stem cells therapy is effective in treating osteoarthritis is a controversial subject among medical professionals, and research in the area is ongoing.
See Osteoarthritis Treatment
How researchers think stem cell therapy worksResearchers theorize3 that when applied to an arthritic joint, stem cells might:
See Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Signs
It may be none, one, two, or all three processes at are work.
Proponents vs criticsLike many relatively new treatments, stem cell therapy has proponents and critics.
Critics emphasize that there have been no large-scale, prospective, double-blind research studiesthe kind of clinical studies that medical professionals consider the gold standardto support stem cell therapy for arthritis.
Factors that affect stem cell therapy researchAnother challenge associated with current stem cell research is that there is no standard stem cell therapy for arthritis treatment. So the stem cell therapy in one study is not necessarily the same as the stem cell therapy in another study.
Differences can include:
These differences are further complicated by more unknowns. For example, how many stem cells are needed for a particular treatment? And how do we determine if a patients own stem cells are competent enough to aid in healing?
Many physicians combine the use of stem cells with platelet rich plasma, or PRP.
See Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy for Arthritis
PRP is derived from a sample of the patients blood. In the body, platelets secrete substances called growth factors and other proteins that regulate cell division, stimulate tissue regeneration, and promote healing. Like stem cell therapy, PRP therapy is sometimes used alone with the hopes of healing an arthritic joint.
See PRP Injection Preparation and Composition
Physicians who use PRP and stem cells together think that the PRP can help maximize the healing effects of stem cells.6,7 Research in this area is ongoing.
See Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection Procedure
Stem cell therapy can vary depending on the doctor performing it. People considering stem cell therapy for an arthritic knee or other joint are advised to ask their doctors questions, including:
Both doctors and patients can benefit from having a frank conversation and setting reasonable expectations.
See Arthritis Treatment Specialists
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