Living with arthritis is no fun. Most forms of arthritis are degenerative in nature, meaning they never get better on their own. They just continue getting worse as the involved tissue degenerates. For some patients, that ultimately means surgery. But wait. There is another option in regenerative therapies.
Regenerative therapies are injection therapies offered by practitioners of regenerative medicine. Lone Star Pain Medicine, a chronic pain clinic based in Weatherford, Texas, says some patients opt for platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or stem cell injections instead of surgery.
Neither therapy is guaranteed to offer the desired relief. But in fairness, joint replacement surgery doesn’t offer any guarantees either. There are plenty of patients who undergo invasive surgical procedures yet still wind up with painful joints afterward.
What Regenerative Therapy Does
By definition, regenerative therapies encourage the body to regenerate lost or damaged tissue. Consider osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis that doctors treat. Osteoarthritis is a degenerate condition caused by a gradual loss of cartilage in the joints.
Over time, that cartilage breaks down and as it does, there is less cushion between bones. Arthritis pain is caused by the affected bones grinding on one another. How does regenerative therapy help? By encouraging the body to naturally replace the lost cartilage.
Blood Plasma and Stem Cells
PRP therapy utilizes a patient’s blood to create a plasma material that is rich in platelets and growth factors. In essence, the patient’s blood is drawn and then placed in a centrifuge. The centrifuge separates the desirable components from those that are undesirable. The resulting material is injected directly into the painful joint.
Stem cell therapy is similar. Patients donate their own stem cells taken from bone marrow or fat tissue. Those stem cells are also processed in-house before being injected into the joint.
In both cases, the injected material should trigger the body’s natural healing response. When PRP is injected, its growth factors and platelets immediately jump start the healing process. It is very similar to how platelets cause blood clots at the site of a laceration.
As for stem cells, science doesn’t quite yet understand how they trigger the healing response. They may present the body with the first round of building materials, so to speak, more or less giving the body a foundation on which to build. On the other hand, they may just act as a trigger. Research is still trying to figure that out.
Joint Replacement Surgery
Growing numbers of doctors are recommending regenerative therapy because it is significantly less invasive than surgery. PRP and stem cell injections are just that: injections. They are minimally invasive by their nature. On the other hand, surgery is as invasive as can be. Surgeons actually go in and remove the patient’s joint, replacing it with a synthetic joint.
Unfortunately, patients misunderstand the fine details of joint replacement. Replacing an arthritic joint does not guarantee pain relief and full function. Sometimes that is the result, but other times it’s not.
The other thing to remember about joint replacement surgery is that it requires a significant amount of recovery time. Physical therapy is often required to regain full mobility. On the other hand, recovery from regenerative therapies is comparatively fast. There is almost no downtime and physical therapy, while helpful, isn’t always required.
From what we know about regenerative therapies, they are a viable alternative to joint replacement surgery. Of course, each case is different, so patients have to talk over their options with their doctors. Those who choose regenerative therapy may be able to avoid surgery altogether. That alone is motivation to investigate the treatments.