My stem cell therapy experience began after having treated hundreds of pain patients with platelet rich plasma, prolotherapy, and amniotic allograft injections with great success but often times these therapies need 3-4 rounds of treatment to achieve success rates between 80-100%. This can be a big obstacle for patients that are living busy lives and wish to be pain-free as soon as humanly possible. With this consideration in mind, I looked for new ways to provide substantial pain relief with 1-2 treatments. This led me to adipose derived stem cell therapy. This treatment is the natural progression of platelet rich plasma within regenerative orthopedics. Adipose Stem Cell Therapy is a regenerative injection of stem cells that are stored in fat tissue. It works by taking a small sample of fat from the patient, extracting the live stem cells from the tissue, mixing the stem cells with growth factors from platelet rich plasma, and then injecting the final solution into the joint or area of connective tissue damage.
Why is it more Effective than PRP?
Platelet Rich Plasma is a great non-surgical treatment option and is indirectly a stem cell therapy. After the injection, there is some stem cell migration into the area that contributes to the overall healing effect, but the number of stem cells involved in this migration process is smaller than the amounts used from adipose extractions. This is the main reason why it sometimes takes 3-4 PRP treatments to achieve the same clinical outcomes and pain relief as 1-2 stem cell therapy treatments.
My Stem Cell Therapy Experience
I must admit I was a little nervous going into the treatment because it was an unknown for me. I have had many different prolotherapy and PRP injections done on almost every joint in my body and was very familiar with that experience but was anxious to see how the extraction and injection compared. The treatment began with me lying on my stomach in the prone position on the exam table. The doctors first assessed my outer hip region for excess fat and decided upon the areas that they would extract the fat and stem cells from. Most people have a little to a lot of extra fat in this region that is commonly known as the love handles. After finding the spot with the highest amount of fat, they were ready to begin!
The first step in the stem cell extraction was numbing the area up with anesthetic. In my case, they used a lidocaine epinephrine solution and injected that into the entry point of the extraction cannula. At this point, the pain was minimal and the bled was similar to standard PRP treatments except much bigger in size. Next, the doctors needed to create an opening in my skin to access the fat tissue. This was done by creating a small incision with a 18 gauge needle into the bled. The extraction site now needed to be numbed so it would not hurt as the fat was being sucked out. They did this by injecting local anesthetic under my skin and over the adipose tissue. In this process, the adipose was released from its attachments to the surrounding tissues. This loosened everything up and prepared the fat for extraction. The process looks barbaric on video as you will see the doctor moving a big cannula needle back and forth quickly to loosen everything up. I didn’t experience much pain from this, even though it looks like it would be very painful. Occasionally, I could feel a pinching sensation as the cannula hit areas without anesthetic but the vast majority was painless.
Next, was the the actual extraction of the fat. The doctors switched cannula’s and went back into the prepared area. This process was very similar to the loosening process. The doctors went back and forth many many times and used the suction pressure from the syringe to help pull the fat up and out from my body. This part of the procedure took the longest amount of time, as fat is very adhesive and takes a while to loosen and suck out. They took approximately 20 mls of fat from my body in total from each side of my posterior hips. After, the fat was out, the doctors applied more sterilizing solution over the wound holes and then closed them up.
My extracted fat then went through a gravity separation and then a slow speed centrifuge separation. This separates the extracted solution into blood, adipose stem cells, and fatty acids. The stem cells were then taken from that solution and the rest was discarded. The stem cells were then mixed with platelet rich plasma, which allows the solution to be more easily injected. It also increases effectiveness of the therapy because the stem cells respond stronger in a growth factor rich environment.
Stem Cell Therapy Experience Treatment
Going into this process I was not in any pain anywhere in my body but I still wanted to go through the entire process like a regular patient would experience. That meant I would be treated with my own stem cells that the doctors had just extracted. I chose to have the stem cells put back into my knees, as I figured it would only strengthen them up long term and possibly prevent arthritis formation. The injection of the stem cells back into my knees was very similar to a PRP injection with the only difference being that the doctor used a larger gauge needle for the injection. This is due to the fact that the stem cell therapy solution has a higher viscosity than PRP.
After the knee injections were completed, I felt slightly sore but was in no pain. After approximately 5 hours my knees began to experience some inflammation. This slowly increased for roughly 24 hours and my range of motion also decreased due to the acute inflammation. After 2 days, the inflammation began to go back down and I was able to gradually increase the length of time standing. After 5 days, my knees were about 90% back to normal with a little soreness that persisted on full flexion of the knee. Exactly 2 weeks after the procedure, I began to strength train again with my lower body. This was my first workout after letting the body rest and recover from the treatment and I didn’t hold back at all. I performed 3 sets of squats, deadlifts, squat presses, and lunges without any pain or limitations. The following day I was in zero knee pain and can safely say I’m back at 100% in 2 weeks time.
My Stem Cell Therapy Experience Summary
I must admit I was a little apprehensive going into this, but I really value knowing what patients can expect. I find that by experiencing my own clinical recommendations firsthand, it helps me really relate to the patient and greatly establishes the trust factor in the relationship. The pain during the treatment was actually less than I was anticipating, which was a nice relief. The inflammation in the joint after the injection was significantly greater that a PRP shot, which was a little surprising. Overall, I was glad that I went through the stem cell therapy experience process and was able to return to 100% within 2 weeks. This quick recovery period is a fraction of the time compared to a knee replacement surgery. The cost is also a small fraction of the out of pocket expense of the knee replacement surgery. These factors make stem cell therapy for knee pain and osteoarthritis a very attractive alternative to surgery.