Knee Arthritis, Heal Thyself? New Research Says Yes!

Our alternative health counterparts have always believed that the body has the ability to heal itself. This concept was largely based on observation, but to many outside of the alternative health community it had the ring of fantasy fiction. However, with the discovery of stem cells living throughout the body, science has begun supporting the concept. A new study adds to that body of research, suggesting that even in late stage knee arthritis healing is possible. In fact, the ability of the joint to regenerate increases as the knee arthritis gets worse!

What is an Adult Stem Cell?

You’ve probably heard about embryonic stem cells, but most of the public doesn’t know that similar types of adult stem cells live in all of our tissues. These cells act as the repairmen of the body, fixing things that break or replacing worn out and degenerative cells as we age.

There are a few places where these cells are usually harvested for therapy, including the bone marrow and fat. In addition, unlike their embryonic cousins, the safety profile of these adult stem cells is generally greater, as they stop growing upon completion of the repair job. These unique cells are multi-talented; they can orchestrate a repair response in various ways, like a general contractor supervising a construction site.

Your Knee Has Stem Cells!

Most patients would be surprised to learn that their knee has stem cells. Their job is to maintain the cartilage, meniscus, and ligaments. For example, if you go for a long run, you may kill hundreds to thousands of cartilage cells. These cells need replacement, or running would quickly lead to arthritis with severe cartilage loss. Thus, natural knee arthritis healing takes place everyday.

As we age, the total number of adult stem cells in our tissues declines. Some of us lose more stem cells, some of us fewer. For some, our stem cell function remains robust until old age, and for others, it declines more quickly. The same holds true for the knee. Decreased stem cell count, trauma, and environmental evolvement within the knee as a result of genes, diet, and exercise are determining factors in the regenerative potential of the aging joint. The common belief has been that knee arthritis healing decreases as we age. However, new research suggests that the knee’s stem cells grow increasingly capable of repair as the joint grows more arthritic!

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Can Knee Arthritis Heal? The New Research

The new study is complex, but it can be broken into comprehensible parts. Your body tags certain genes and modifies their function through a process called methylation. This makes sense as your genes are a fixed instruction set that cannot respond well to your changing environment. Just as a builder looks at an architect’s plans and has to make adjustments to manufacture the building itself, your body makes necessary modifications through methylation.

The study shows that cartilage cells in the arthritic knee were constantly tagged and changed as the disease progressed. Most surprisingly, in late stage arthritis, the body was improving certain gene pathways involved in repair and ramping up the stem cells in the joint. Amazingly, the body works harder and harder to repair the joint as the knee’s lifespan decreases!

The Implications of this Research

Science continues to support the more than century old ideas of chiropractors and naturopaths that the body can repair itself if the practitioner creates the proper environment to facilitate healing. In this case, the knee is using sophisticated genetic manipulation to enhance its ability to heal itself. Our job as physicians should not be to amputate the joint, but to set the environment to enhance that repair process (This is the main concept behind our Orthopedics 2.0 e-book, which is a free download at the bottom of this page!). Through changes in bio mechanics, nerve input, and stability, as well as augmentation of repair with advanced platelet and stem cell procedures, we can give the joint the helping hand it needs to further enhance repair.

The upshot? Chiropractors, naturopaths, and other alternative healers should rejoice that science is finally figuring out what their forebears knew in the 19th century. The body is an amazing machine using sophisticated means to heal itself, and sometimes all it needs is a little help!

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. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.