Can an ACL Stem Cell Shot Replace Surgery?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

acl stem cell shotThe single biggest MRI result that we see day in and day out that never ceases to amaze me is a postinjection image after stem cells have been injected into a trashed ACL. While the images look fantastic, usually showing ACLs that have transformed themselves from tattered messes into something resembling a normal ligament, many surgeons who perform ACL-reconstruction surgeries for a living have questioned whether these stem-cell-injected ACLs could ever hold up during sports. So this morning I’ll share an image plus the report of a competitive beach-volleyball player and avid Telemark skier who received an ACL stem cell shot in the knee.

ACL Surgery Has Its Problems

ACL surgery does have its problems, but before we look at these, let’s review the ACL. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a main ligament of the knee. It allows for precise movement and provides stability in the knee. The ligament attaches at the bottom of the femur bone (the long upper-leg bone), stretches through the middle of the knee, and connects to the top of the tibia bone (the larger lower-leg bone). The rotation and the front-back motion of the knee are controlled by the ACL, and this control is what gives the knee its stability. If the ACL becomes injured or torn, common in athletes and people involved in activities that put a lot of pressure on the knees, the knee can become unstable.

Orthopedic surgeons will usually recommend an invasive surgery called ACL reconstruction in which the old ligament is removed and a graft is inserted in its place. However, a knee with a reconstructed ACL will never function like it did prior to your injury. Why? Some of the ACL surgery problems I’ve shared here over the years follow:

Many people also believe ACL reconstruction will minimize the risk of arthritis, but this is not true. Not only does ACL surgery not prevent or minimize the risk of knee arthritis, but it may even accelerate the onset.

Now, let’s look at David’s experience following his ACL stem cell shot and his before and after images above.

David’s ACL Stem Cell Shot Story

David first saw us just three weeks before he was scheduled for an ACL reconstruction (ACLR). He told Dr. Markle that two weeks prior to that visit he had heard an audible pop in his knee while Telemark skiing. He had already been evaluated by two orthopedic surgeons, with MRIs showing an ACL tear. They both wanted to operate, so he had the surgery scheduled, but then he heard about Regenexx and wanted to see if he was a candidate for our novel Perc-ACLR procedure (percutaneous ACL repair).

In January of 2016, David received a precise injection of HD-BMC (high-dose bone marrow concentrate) into both bundles of his ACL. By three months the knee was feeling more stable without pain and he was using an ACL brace to protect the area. By nine months out, Dr. Markle decided to provide a HD-PRP (high-dose platelet rich plasma) booster shot into the ligament due to some mild residual laxity noted on exam.

The above images are before the injury and six months after the injection. Note that the ACL on the left is bright and barely seen, outside of some stringy fibers moving in the general direction of where the ACL should be. Now note the six-months-postinjection image to the right. The ACL fibers appear more normal in appearance. However, the big question is, how did this knee hold up in sports? Dr. Markle received this from David:

“Hi Dr. Markle,

Great news!
I just returned home after competing in an 8 day, doubles beach volleyball tournament in Mexico. 
My knee was absolutely perfect. No pain. No soreness. No stiffness. No laxity.
 There were over 200 of us competing at the tournament. I told dozens of people about the Regenexx procedure.
 Group photo attached. I’m in the front row in the white t-shirt.
 Thanks again for giving my knee a second chance!
 
Gratefully,
David Strauss”
Enough said on how well the knee that dodged the surgery bullet performed during sports.

The upshot? I love seeing these postinjection MRIs of knees that have been treated with our Perc-ACLR procedure (an ACL stem cell shot). Even more, I love seeing how people are using their knees in high-level sports and chuckling that some surgeon told them that their ACL needed to be yanked out and replaced with a poor tendon substitute!

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6 thoughts on “Can an ACL Stem Cell Shot Replace Surgery?

  1. Margaret Newton

    I really want and need this done, but, no one in area does this?
    My husband thinks if it was as good as they say, then someone would be doing it in the area? What can i say to make him feel more comfortable with it and who do I get to order MRI?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Margaret,
      Unfortunately, an MRI is not covered by insurance unless ordered by a Doctor whom you have seen face to face. While we are always adding adding clinics, finding doctors with the very high level skillset needed for the Regenexx training is challenging. Less than 5% of all doctors! Please see: http://www.regenexx.com/blog/trust-regenexx-network-physicians/

  2. Angela

    Will the stem cell transplant help a knee that has already had ACL surgery; 3 times?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Angela,
      Each case is different and we’d need to see an MRI and get a history. That said, one of the biggest isses with ACL surgery is the graft is put in at a different angle than the original, which affects the biomechanics of the knee and even the other knee. We can’t change the angle of the graft. We can treat the biomechanical isssues the the graft caused, improving pain and function.

  3. Bob

    You can get an MRI without having a doctor order one – and you don’t need insurance. There are facilities that have “extremity MRI” machines that will do MRIs from knee to foot and fingers to elbows. The cost is about the same as your insurance co-pay would be. I paid $295 for an MRI that was then sent to my Regenexx-trained MD.

  4. Joe Hastings

    David have you returned to skiing since your accident?

    I tore my ACL skiing in Mar2016 and had the same “Perc-ACLR” in Apr2016 and a few “SCP boosters” and then a repeat “Perc-ACRL” in Dec2016 to try to get my knee as strong as possible before returning to skiing (based on physical exam was advised to wait a bit longer before skiing). My main sports are skiing and climbing and I’ve been at ~100% for climbing for quite a while (including indoor lead and bouldering falls) but haven’t yet returned to skiing. I’ve been overall quite happy with the caveat that I won’t really know for sure until I can return to advanced-level skiing, hopefully next season!

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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