FAQs on Stem Cell Injections

Stem cell injections are a new technique used to treat chronic degenerative problems, such as tendonitis and osteoarthritis. These injections are also being used for acute injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, meniscus tears, and joint injury.

What are stem cells?

Called bone marrow stem cells (BMSC), these cells are harvested from the posterior iliac crest, which is the back of the hipbone. These cells are plentiful in the body, and help tissues regenerate and heal.

How do stem cells help with injuries and chronic damage?

Stem cells help the body regenerate damaged areas and injured body regions. These injections are a minimally invasive treatment option for chronic joint discomfort as well as pain relief from serious acute and chronic disorders.

What conditions are treated using stem cell injections?

Stem cell injections are used to treat:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Meniscus tears
  • Chondromalacia patella syndrome
  • Achilles tendon injuries
  • Muscle tears
  • Sacroiliac joint pain
  • Rotator cuff injuries

Which joints can be injected using stem cells?

The most commonly injected joints include the knee, hip, shoulder, and ankle.

How do I prepare for a stem cell injection procedure?

Because increased bleeding can occur, notify the physician if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medications. In addition, notify the doctor of all medical conditions you have. When you arrive at the physician’s office, a nurse will discuss the risks and benefits and have you sign a consent form. After you change into a gown, the nurse will place an IV catheter in your arm to administer a sedative if required.

How is the stem cell procedure done?

The bone marrow must be removed from the hipbone, so the doctor cleans the skin and numbs the skin and deeper tissues using an anesthetic. A needle is inserted using x-ray guidance, and the marrow is extracted using a special needle. The marrow is processed in the lab, and the concentrated solution (containing the stem cells) is then injected into the damaged or injured area.

Who is a candidate for a stem cell injection?

The pain specialist will first assess your condition and take a medical history. If the joints or spine is severely damaged, stem cell injections will not help. This procedure is best for people with mild to moderate joint damage. In addition, stem cell injections benefit people who have wear-and-tear to the joints or body regions.

Who cannot have a stem cell injection?

Stem cell injections cannot be given to anyone with:

  • Current infection
  • Blood-borne cancer (lymphoma or leukemia)
  • Condition requiring high-dose blood-thinning medication (atrial fibrillation or thrombosis)
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Thyroid dysfunction

Are stem cell injections covered by health insurance?

Most insurance plans do not cover stem cell therapy. The cost of treatment is determined by which type of injection is being done, or if many joints are injected. This costs between $2,500 and $5,000. Discuss your insurance plan with your doctor to decide if this is the best option for you.

Are stem cells injections effective?

Stem cells can improve damaged cartilage, and they offer pain relief for many patients. While the improvement takes 3-6 months to occur, the procedure is effective. In a recent clinical study, the efficacy rate of stem cell therapy was around 90%. The researchers found these injections beneficial for patients with knee arthritis, and participants improved function and decreased pain scores. In a recent research project, the success rate for rotator cuff tears was around 70%.

Resources

Koh et al. (2013). Mesenchymal stem cell injections improve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.  Arthroscopy. 29(4): 748-755.

Pettine KA, Murphy MB, Suzuki RK, et al. (2014). Percutaneous injection of autologous bone marrow concentrate cells significantly reduces lumbar discogenic pain through 12 months. Stem Cells.

Vangsness CT, et al. (2014). Adult human mesenchymal stem cells delivered via intra-articular injection to the knee following partial medial meniscectomy: a randomized, double-blind, controlled study. J Bone Joint Surg Am, 96(2):90-8.