Osteoarthritis becomes increasingly common as people age. By some estimates, nearly half of all older adults in the US have at least some degree of degenerative joint disease. While arthritis can happen in any joint in the body, it is most common in the hips, knees, lower back, neck and in the small joints of the hands and fingers.
As cartilage breaks down with age, the result is pain, stiffness, and issues moving the affected joints. Most therapies for arthritis focus on minimizing the disease’s progression and providing relief from symptoms. There is growing evidence, however, that regenerative medicine can, in some cases, halt or even reverse arthritis’s progression.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine is an umbrella term for a range of therapies that work with the body’s own healing abilities. Studies show these therapies utilize allographic cells, growth factors and other substances that can be used by the body to accelerate healing. When they are delivered directly to an injured or damaged area, they can assist the body by aiding in and promoting healing.
Research in the field that would become regenerative medicine first started in the 1960s, with trials in skin grafting, the transplant of healthy skin tissue from one area of the body into an area that had been damaged due to burns, injury or infection. By the 1970s, the first skin successful skin graft had been accomplished. This was followed quickly by research into other areas. Bone marrow transplants allowed patients with leukemia to regain their ability to make healthy platelets. The discovery of stem cells, undifferentiated cells that could become whatever tissue the body needed, allowed doctors to provide healing care to individuals who may otherwise have never seen a full recovery from injuries or degenerative conditions.
There are a number of regenerative therapies that are can be especially helpful for the treatment of arthritis:
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) uses substances from the patient’s own blood to target damaged cells and provide a healing boost. This therapy was first developed during the 1970s, when it was used in hospital settings to aid healing after surgery. By the 1990s, a number of studies had demonstrated that PRP could reduce pain and augment the body’s ability to replace and repair damaged tissue. In studies on tendonitis, researchers learned that 93% of people who received PRP therapy still showed a reducing in pain even two years after the procedure. Studies show that patients who receive PRP for arthritis have reported a slowdown in the decrease of cartilage loss, reduced inflammation and a dramatic reduction in arthritis-related pain.
PRP therapy studies are reporting it as a safe treatment with a low chance of rejection. This is because it uses your body’s own cells for treatment. Platelets have a high concentration of growth factors, which speeds up the growth of cells and aids in the production of collagen, the protein that aids in healing.
The PRP is injected into the affected joint with the use of imaging technology. This allows for a highly accurate and targeted treatment. You may experience some pain and swelling at the injection site after treatment, but this goes away quickly. Most people can return to their normal activities soon after treatment. Over the next few weeks and months, the PRP helps promote your body’s healing of the area affected by arthritis. Patients have reported experiencing an increase in their mobility and a reduction in pain. In some cases, a single treatment can provide relief. In others, multiple treatments are needed for the full effect.
Amniotic Membrane Therapy
Amniotic membrane is a plentiful tissue that is collected from donors during elective C-section births. The cells in the amniotic membrane, known as stromal and epithelial cells, have features that make them very similar to allographic cells.
The Amniotic tissue is unique among donated tissues in that bodies universally accept it. Recent studies show it does not cause the reactions that can lead to rejection in other types of donated tissue. Testing of donated tissue for disease and abnormalities also ensure the high level of safety associated with amniotic tissue treatment. By using this therapeutic targeted approach a physician is able to place the grafts exactly the place where they can do the most good.
Like any healing, healing that is assisted by amniotic tissue can take some time. We check back with patients a couple of weeks after treatment to assess their progress and make recommendations for further treatment. Most individuals will begin experiencing improvement in weeks, with full effects felt within around six months of treatment.
What Conditions Can Regenerative Medicine Treat?
Though still under research, current studies are showing that regenerative medicine is considered an effective and promising treatment for a number of conditions. Arthritis is one of the most heavily studied, as earlier therapies only addressed pain management, mobility and slowing the breakdown of cartilage. The potential chance for arthritis sufferers to experience improvement naturally is promising though.
People who have tendonitis have also seen large benefits from regenerative therapies. In people whose tendons have been damaged by the same types of impacts that can lead to arthritis, PRP and other regenerative therapies have helped with healing.
Many who suffer from arthritis are also vulnerable to rotator cuff injuries. Treatment with regenerative medicine may allow these individuals to delay or avoid surgery and potentially regain mobility through non-invasive treatments.
Who Is an Ideal Candidate for These Treatments?
While research in this area continues to develop, scientists are seeing that regenerative medicine is most effective for people who are in the early stages of arthritis. Both allographic and PRP therapy have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation and slow the progression of arthritis. In patients who have some cartilage damage but in whom tissue is still present, allographic cells have been shown to contribute to improvement and aid in healing.
Every individual’s body is different, as is their response to specific therapies. At Clearway, we work individually with every patient to assess their condition, their prognosis and the therapies that are most likely to reduce pain, restore mobility and help them get back to their active selves. We believe that you do not have to live in pain. The sooner a diagnosis is reached, and treatment begins the more positive an outcome. If you are suffering from symptoms of arthritis, get in touch for a consultation.