Can stem cells help for knee arthritis?

Stem cell treatments have exploded on the sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery scene in the last few years. People are paying thousands of dollars to try to help their knees recover and allow them to stay active. Do they work? In this Ask Dr. Geier video, I share my thoughts on stem cells for a young athlete with knee arthritis.

Matt asks:

I have been doing some reading on stem cell therapy for meniscus injuries and arthritis in the knee. I am considering this, as I am a young athlete (29) who would like to keep being active, and hopefully avoid or postpone a knee replacement down the road. What are your thoughts on stem cell therapy for knee injuries?

As always, thanks for taking the time to answer reader questions. Your site and information have been a great help to me over the last few years as I have gone through multiple meniscus repairs and a partial meniscectomy.

Thanks Dr. Geier.

Stem cells are treatments in which tissue is harvested from your body. Cells are grown in a lab from that tissue. These stem cells are then reimplanted or injected into your injured area, such as the knee, with the hope that they turn into mature tissue and heal that area. In theory, in the setting of osteoarthritis, the stem cells would mature into articular cartilage and heal areas of damage.

While these treatments have been tried for years in other parts of the world, they have only recently been attempted in the United States. The challenge with knowing if they work is that we don’t have many quality studies looking at their effectiveness, namely randomized controlled trials comparing these treatments to standard treatments like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections. A tremendous amount of research is underway now to determine how well they work.

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There are thought to be few complications of the treatments. They are expensive, and there is no guarantee they work. Insurance generally does not pay for them, so people often pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket. For active people who have tried the other non-surgical treatment options and do not want to modify their lifestyles or undergo joint replacement surgery, these treatments offer some hope.

Have you tried stem cells for arthritis, or would you consider it? I would love to hear your thoughts below!

Also read:
Ask Dr. Geier – X-rays and MRI for knee arthritis
Ask Dr. Geier: Arthritis after a meniscus tear

Please remember, while I appreciate your questions, I cannot and will not offer specific medical advice by email, online, on my show, or in the comments at the end of these posts. My responses are meant to provide general medical information and education. Please consult your physician or health care provider for your specific medical concerns.

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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