Surgery or Stem Cell Injection?
In joint osteoarthritis, is it better to get surgery or a stem cell injection? When making a healthcare decision, it’s good to weigh risk to benefit. With any treatment, one should first and foremost consider the invasiveness of the therapy. FIRST DO NO HARM is an oath that all doctors take in accepting the license to practice medicine. As a naturopathic physician, I constantly implore my patients to practice that oath for themselves. Whether it be in lifestyle choices or in choosing treatments for their health problems. Unfortunately, some treatments are inherently invasive.
For joint arthritis, there are only two choices offered by conventional medicine. These are pain management and surgery. Pain management includes oral pain meds and steroid injections. Pain medications block the pain, however they come with addiction and side effects. Some patients can never get off of them due to the severe withdrawal symptoms. The steroid injections further weaken the joint as corticosteroids cause degeneration of the ligaments, tendons and bones. These injections have a limit to their pain relieving effects so it’s a very temporary solution. Surgery is done in severe osteoarthritis or when there is a complete tear of a ligament or tendon. The risk of surgery is like any other surgery. Anesthesia is always a risk, especially in older patients. There are cognitive effects of anesthesia and the more dangerous risks of aspiration and infections which can be life threatening. As if aspirating and getting an infection is not enough, there is also the risk of blood clots which could cause a stroke. The benefit of surgery could be significant pain reduction. How long it lasts is not guaranteed and varies from patient to patient. Post surgery, the patient must do extensive rehab, up to 6 months to one year.
Stem cell therapy is a powerful alternative to surgery and pain management. This is a regenerative therapy that heals the ligaments and tendons which hold the joint together. There are 3 sources of stem cells: bone marrow, fat aspirate (these are both taken from the patient), and umbilical cord and blood. Umbilical cord stem cells is the most effective out of the three types of stem cells. Bone marrow and adipose tissue produce a variable product, depending on the patient’s age. The older the patient is, the fewer stem cells the final product will have. Also, umbilical cord stem cells travel further so that sometimes a patient will experience an improvement in their vision or their ankle stops hurting following a knee injection. These naive and primitive, cells divide faster, differentiate more, and have stronger anti-inflammatory effects than the adipose and bone marrow stem cells.
What is the risk to benefit of stem cell therapy? The injection itself takes 5 minutes, there is no anesthesia involved, so no risk of cognitive decline or aspiration. There is no risk for blood clots or infection. No physical therapy is necessary, as the pain will be decreased within 24 hours and the patient can work out the next day. The benefits last just as long and maybe longer than surgery. There is no physical risks to receiving stem cells, as the cells are immunoprivileged. As far as cost, it will most likely cost less to receive a stem cell treatment than to get surgery. No PT or MRI will be necessary which saves the patient significant co-pays.
When deciding what treatment to do, the first question one must ask themselves is how invasive will the therapy be on the body. If the benefits and cost are similar, then the risks and time to heal should be the important decision makers. Clearly, the stem cell treatment wins the contest when it comes to risks and time to heal.
For more information on this regenerative therapy go to stemcellforlife.com or call 480-535-7868. Dr. Hendricks offers free consultations for those who are considering stem cell therapy.