We Invented Orthopedic Stem Cell Injections: An 8-Year Hip Follow-up

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We invented orthopedic stem cell injections for arthritis. That’s a true statement, as while there were one or two physicians using bone marrow concentrate as part of specific surgeries before we began using stem cells, there was nobody injecting stem cells to treat arthritis. I was reminded of that this week when a patient who is 8 years out from her hip arthritis stem cell injection pinged us via Facebook. Think of that for a second, and let it swirl around your head. A woman who could barely walk across our parking lot and who was on track for a hip replacement never got that invasive surgery because of a single, precise, guided injection of her own bone marrow stem cells processed per our unique protocol 8 years ago!

Birthdays and Remembering the Past

As I write this, today is my birthday. I’m old enough at 54 that I’ve started to forget about them, so when my daughter asked if I was excited about my birthday on Wednesday, I had to think for a second about what she was asking. It’s also important because when I injected my first patient with stem cells I was a mere 42!

Since I’ve been at this a long time, I get pinged every now and then by old patients. This week a patient pinged us with this on Facebook:

“Deborah Hannam-Stensvaag I had my hip done 8 years ago by Dr Schultz and Dr Centeno at their Denver clinic. 
No metal body parts for me if I can help it!!!

Deborah Hannam-Stensvaag Maristine Laws I feel GREAT! Everyone’s outcome is different depending on age and overall health. I just received my 8 year follow up survey and would do it again rather than have surgery. I could hardly walk across the parking lot to their clinic. Now I’m fine. I’m very active too!”

I remember Deb as she was my patient in July of 2009. At that point, it was hard for her to straighten her leg, and there was a crunching sensation in the front of her right thigh. The MRIs showed moderate hip arthritis on one side and mild on the other, with labral tears. She also had issues in her SI joint, which is common for patients who have hip arthritis. One month later, once we had gotten updated MRIs, we performed a Regenexx-SD same-day stem cell injection procedure, injecting precisely into the joint and labrum using fluoroscopy and ultrasound guidance.

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Inventing Stem Cell Injection Procedures

It’s pretty interesting to have patients out there who are 5, 8, 10 or even 12 years out from the procedure when everyone else in this field has just learned about it. When we did these first procedures, there was no one else doing this work to treat arthritis or tendon/ligament injuries, so we were at great risk if something went wrong. In addition, we needed to know this topic at a very deep level because there was no textbook or article to read or “how to” manual. There were no weekend courses to take or even lectures being given at any medical conferences. Literally, everyone out there today doing injection-based stem cell therapy to treat orthopedic injuries or disease learned from someone who learned from someone who learned from someone who learned from or was inspired by us in some way. Basically, all orthopedic stem cell procedures being performed today are the result of one big game of telephone that began here in Broomfield, Colorado. As with any game of telephone, the information can get distorted as it passes from person to person.

The Top 5 Distorted Stem Cell Messages That I See Every Day

  1. Stem cells are magic! They are not. They are a great clinical tool in the right patients and do very little for the wrong patients. Knowing the difference only comes from loads of day-in and day-out experience.
  2. Stem cells will magically go to where the problem lives! Nope. While this may happen in Petri dishes or otherwise healthy and young animals, it simply doesn’t happen in the average patient with orthopedic problems. Either you precisely place them in the right spot or you will see much poorer results.
  3. You can mix traditional injections and stem cell injections. Most of the stuff injected by physicians, including high-dose steroids and common local anesthetics, kill cells dead. Hence, many stem cell procedures provided by doctors who took a weekend course are DOA because they mixed them with some commonly used toxic drug.
  4. A stem cell injection is a generic thing, and everybody who advertises that they perform these procedures injects the same product. Wrong. What you get varies very widely. As an example, I just saw a local orthopedic surgeon advertise a fat graft as a stem cell injection. We see chiros advertising dead amniotic tissue as a stem cell injection. There are others who neglect to even concentrate the stem cells in the bone marrow! Hence, what you get that’s called stem cells may not even be living, let alone a stem cell injection.
  5. Experience doesn’t matter because all doctors know how to perform these procedures. Nope. In fact, no physician on earth (save for our fellows and maybe a few lucky physicians around the world in select programs) gets training in these procedures. Most physicians get training from weekend courses that are woefully inadequate. As an example, right now, to do these procedures correctly, the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation has a several-hundred-hour series of courses that focus on precise stem cell injections all over the body. Most physicians instead settle for 8–12 hours of training over a weekend and begin sticking patients come Monday morning.

Do you want to see what a real, precisely guided stem cell injection procedure in the hip looks like? Check out one being performed in our Colorado office:

The upshot? At the end of the day, we’re proud to have pioneered this field and to have patients who are out 8–12 years from their stem cell procedure. In addition, we’ve learned lots of stuff in the past decade. Much of what we’ve learned has been distilled into the only comprehensive regenerative medicine training out there through the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation. However, that can’t be taught in a weekend. The rest of what we’ve learned is taught to our Regenexx affiliates around the country and all over the world. So if you’re a patient, be careful out there! What’s being called a stem cell injection is not what this patient received 8 years ago!

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If you have questions or comments about this blog post, please email us at [email protected]

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.

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