So you have really bad pain in your knees. You’ve tried everything to treat them but nothing is getting you relief. You’ve heard of a lot of success stories with regenerative medicine treatments such as PRP injections and stem cell therapy, but you’re wondering are these stories too good to be true? Do people really feel better and who can you trust to learn more about these treatments? Well, you’re in the right place, because we’re going to go through the most up-to-date clinical trial data, and these studies will tell us whether PRP injections and stem cell therapy actually work. They will hopefully help you decide which treatments may or may not be worth pursuing.
So let’s talk about PRP versus stem cell therapy for knee arthritis. Both PRP and stem cells fall under the big umbrella category of treatments called regenerative medicine or orthobiologics. These are very new techniques with the goal of using your own body cells to help relieve pain and inflammation.
PRP and Stem Cell Benefits
Both PRP and stem cells contain an enormous amount of growth factors. They initiate cascades which are responsible for tissue healing, tissue remodeling, tissue proliferation, and in controlling pain and inflammation. But more specific to osteoarthritis, they are incredibly important in altering the biochemistry of a knee from arthritis and that is because arthritis causes a very toxic environment in the knee. It is incredible inflammatory and all of this leads to pain and disability.
So the goal of biologic treatments such as PRP and stem cell treatments is to use your own cells to reset the environment in the knee to create and maintain a healthy and neutral environment. The hypothesis is that these cells will not only reduce symptoms, but they can also decrease the progression of arthritis.
Pluripotent vs Mesenchymal Stem Cells
When most people talk about stem cells, they are thinking of pluripotent stem cells. These are cells that, can divide and grow into pretty much anything. Think of embryos that are just starting to grow and create new organs. They are incredibly versatile and can potentially regenerate or repair diseased tissues and organs, but when we talk about stem cell procedures or stem cell injections, we are actually using and referring to another type of stem cell. Not the pluripotent stem cells. Instead, we are using a special type of adult stem cell called the mesenchymal stem cell. These cells have limited capacity when compared to pluripotent stem cells, but they still have tremendous ability to reduce pain and symptoms.
So the two most common places to get mesenchymal stem cells are, either from adipose or fat tissue or from the bone marrow. And it’s important to point out that once we isolate the mesenchymal stem cells and inject them, there’s no current evidence that suggests that we are regrowing or regenerating anything. Remember these cells are not pluripotent, you don’t get a new knee after stem cell injections. So you may ask: what’s the point then? Well mesenchymal stem cells are incredibly strong signaling cells. They initiate cascades in the body that, provide all sorts of health benefits, but most important among them are reducing pain and reducing inflammation.
So how does that compare to PRP?
PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma. In PRP, doctors draw your blood into a specialized tube, put it in a centrifuge, and then separate out your platelets and all the growth factors that circulate in your blood. Doctors then take that out and then inject it into your knees. Again we are not growing or regenerating anything, but we are using the cells that initiate incredibly strong cascades in the body to provide pain relief and reduce inflammation. Our current understanding of mesenchymal stem cell injections and PRP injections is that they initiate similar pathways to help improve symptoms.
Credit to Dr Jeffrey Peng for above video and information.
Please note: The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about stem cell therapy/ PRP, please talk to your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional.