As the climax of the annual recreational running season approaches – the Hood to Coast Relay just finished, and thousands of runners are still training for The Portland Marathon in October – the wear and tear on all those running and flexing knee joints also reaches its peak.
The harder a runner treats his or her knees, the greater the wear and tear on the precious cartilage that holds those knee joints together. So, it’s no wonder that injuries to knees are among the most common, and devastating, to runners and athletes of all sports.
For most everyday athletes, the symptoms of wear and tear usually start with mild pain or stiffness in the knee joint; that’s the first sign of osteoarthritis. But prevention offers the best opportunity to keep your knees healthy, so it’s important to have your athletic knees examined by a knee specialist before OA symptoms, and damage, occur.
One local clinic, Reflex Portland, has recently begun offering a breakthrough treatment – Stem Cell Therapy (SCT) – that enables the body to slow down inflammatory pathways that contribute to osteoarthritis. SCT initiates the healing process, and has the potential to regenerate damaged cartilage in a way that cannot occur on its own.
“PRP (platelet-rich plasma) has the largest clinical impact of any non-surgical treatment right now,” says Dr. Russ Riggs, the physician and director behind Reflex Portland, the treatment center many people are heading to for surgery-delaying treatments. “Another exciting advancement is stem cell therapy, which is the newest treatment option at Reflex.”
In this therapy, stem cells are harvested from the patient’s adipose (fat) tissue, and then mixed with platelet-rich plasma and re-injected into the patient’s knee(s). The stem cells are taken from fatty areas because of a recent discovery that they contain more than 500 times the concentration of adult stem cells than bone marrow; additionally, it’s less painful for the patient and causes fewer complications.
Riggs says that because of their regenerative capabilities, stem cells have the potential to significantly shift the balance from a degenerative condition to a regenerative one. For those suffering from knee osteoarthritis, this is important since stem cells have the potential to differentiate into cartilage cells. The potential results are significant relief from chronic knee pain and improved mobility for a longer period than can be had with other currently available therapies.
And since the procedure uses cells that come from a patient’s own body, the treatment does not trigger an immune response and causes minimal side effects. Still, the treatment’s overall results may vary from one patient to another.
“The quality and potency of stem cells vary from person to person,” says Riggs. “For example, as people age their stem cells lose potency, so patients older than 75 are not likely to have the same results as someone who is 45. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, and some medications, may affect the quality of stem cells and overall healing potential. For these reasons, outcomes following stem cell treatment are highly variable in each individual.”
Osteoarthritis causes more disability in individuals than any other medical condition. “And it can go unnoticed for decades before it causes enough pain for someone to finally see a doctor,” he adds.
Already, a variety of different SCT procedures are available. “At Reflex Portland, we do same-day Stem Cell and PRP extraction,” says Riggs. “And, we do a cell viability count with a cytometer, and directly inject the extracted stem cells and PRP into the knee joint using ultrasound guidance.” That ultrasound guidance enables Reflex Portland’s board-certified physicians to precisely pinpoint the source of patients’ pain. So, for those who are considering SCT, add one-day convenience to the list of SCT’s advantages over having knee replacement surgery.
Of course, much of this is already common knowledge among athletes competing at the highest level, and their trainers. Professional athletes – such as retired NFL future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning and MLB’s Bartolo Colon (age 44 and going strong as a Minnesota Twins relief pitcher), among many – have been getting stem cell transplants for years to avoid potential career-threatening injuries and surgery, or to help them heal better and faster after one.
But osteoarthritis can strike anyone, including millions who are former competitive athletes, as well as those who’ve never competed or even ran recreationally. If you experience knee stiffness and soreness, it could be a sign of osteoarthritis. SCT and other new therapies could be just the answer to helping improve your comfort and mobility, avoid costly knee replacement surgery, and get back to pursuing the physical activities – like running – that you enjoy.
Three more board-certified physicians are joining the expert Reflex Portland team this fall. For more information visit www.reflexportland.com.