I recently had someone ask me if the treatments where stem cells are used re-grow cartilage in a joint really work. I have been doing a lot of research about this topic and even attended one of their educational workshops. Using The Stem Institute of America’s protocol, they use amniotic stem cell tissue obtained from a tissue bank that has been irradiated to kill pathogens, frozen for storage, and then thawed and pulverized into a powder. Once reconstituted at the doctor’s office, it is injected into a patient’s joint by a nurse practitioner. It is a blind injection, meaning, there is no guided imagery to insure proper placement of the needle. The premise is that over the next few months, your body will repair and regrow cartilage, ligaments and tissues, reducing inflammation and pain.
The problem is that according to the FDA, these cells are not actually alive. In fact, the FDA has mailed warning letters to manufacturers of amniotic derived products due to their misleading marketing techniques. According the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation, a non profit foundation focused on Regenerative Orthopedic Medicine, independent lab tests confirm the absence of live functioning stem cells in amniotic tissue. So, this isn’t actually stem cells they are using. The only way you can get stem cell therapy is with cells that have been harvested from your own body as in bone marrow or adipose tissue.
One injection costs $5000 unless you sign up that day, and then you get a $500 discount, to make it $4500 per injection. What if you need more than 1 injection? And, on top of that, it is not covered by insurance.
There is no real evidence that amniotic stem cells help do anything. There are “case studies” but there are no large clinical trials to suggest that these injections work.
On the other hand, there are a number of studies on low level laser therapy (LLLT or cold laser therapy) . LLLT has been used for over 35 years in Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada and was FDA approved for use in the United States in 2002. LLLT has been shown to be effective in a variety of musculo-skeletal conditions. In a review of 18 studies, patients with Rheumatoid arthritis reported an 80% success in relieving pain. A study of 40 patients who suffered from Osteoarthritis of the knee, showed a significant reduction in pain in 82% of the patients. Cold laser therapy: reduces pain by causing the production of natural pain killer endorphins; suppresses inflammatory enzymes that create swelling, redness, pain and heat; stimulates the release of healing enzymes; reduces pain and inflammation, stimulates nerve regeneration, and increases cellular energy by 150% which speeds and improves the healing process.
We have been using Cold Laser therapy for 8 years with great success. We have used cold laser therapy on patients who suffer from shoulder pain, knee pain, hip pain, plantar fasciitis, arthritis and many other painful conditions. Many of my patients see dramatic results after 4 treatments. Even though Cold Laser therapy is not covered by insurance, the charge is nominal compared to these injections.