Terrell Owens Gets Stem Cell Treatments?

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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We’ve treated a slew of pro athletes through the years, and I can honestly say that I have never had one agree to have his procedure filmed. This is why it was surprising to see a TMZ video of Terrell Owens, former NFL player, getting bone marrow stem cell injection procedures. Having said that, the video gives an excellent window into what I would consider a low-quality stem cell procedure. Let me explain.

My New Stem Cell “Botched” Series

Part of the reason for the new series is to call out the truly crazy and scammy stuff happening in stem cell therapy. In addition, part of it is to educate patients and physicians about the base standards for what defines a high-quality versus a low-quality therapy. Today’s video is in the latter category, as Terrell Owens definitely got a real stem cell procedure, but the quality could have been far better.

Quality in medicine has always been an elusive thing. While it’s easy to see and measure in cars and consumer devices, it’s not so in medicine. The only way patients can separate the wheat from the chaff is to get educated about the procedures they’re considering. However, there is often no way to benchmark what a surgeon or provider does behind closed doors.

The Terrell Owens Stem Cell Procedure

The good news is that unlike scam amniotic or cord blood “dead” stem cell procedures, it’s likely that “TO” did get a real stem cell procedure. In addition, a physician specialist was performing the procedure in an operating/procedure-room setting, rather than a nurse in a chiropractor’s office. So there are things to like about this procedure.

Having said that, the video is complete enough to find a few big issues with this procedure that can educate the public about quality. We can break the problems with this procedure into two basic issues:

  1. Poor harvest technique will cause too few cells to be taken.
  2. Too many areas were treated.

Let’s explore that a bit further.

Too Few Cells Taken

It’s often hard for patients to conceptualize that how the bone marrow aspiration procedure is performed matters. In fact, both Phillipe Hernigou (the only guy on earth who has been doing bone marrow concentrate procedures longer than I have) and I agree. The more cells you get and use in an area of treatment, the better the outcomes. Phillipe has published a number of papers that have shown this as have others. We also published a 2014 dosing paper on knee osteoarthritis that showed the same thing. Dose matters.

One way you can increase the dose in a bone marrow stem cell procedure is to perform a meticulous and time-consuming bone marrow aspiration (BMA). This is the procedure where you take the stem cells from the bone marrow. How the BMA is performed is critical to the eventual success or failure of the stem cell injection or surgical procedure.

For the scientific citations that support my assertions below, please see the video below about bone marrow aspiration. For a synopsis of the Terrell Owens procedure, please see my video above, at the top of the page.

Location, Location, Location…

To start, you need to draw from the site that has the most cells, which is not the front of the hip or the knee but the back of the pelvis in an area called the PSIS.


Why would anyone draw here? It’s often easier for surgeons to have the patient in this position. However, it compromises stem cell yield.

The Big Pull Is Big Bull

A good stem cell harvest takes time. However, many physicians don’t want to take the time. As an example, a medical colleague and I mused over the weekend that the average physician who performs these procedures sticks the trocar into the bone and pulls as much bone marrow as is required. We call this “the big pull,” and it’s a surefire way to dramatically reduce the number of stem cells in your draw. Why? The number of stem cells dramatically declines after the first few ccs of the draw. Basically, after about 10 ccs, you’re just drawing blood from the body as the marrow space is connected to the blood vasculature system.


How do you perform a proper bone marrow stem cell draw? In short, for this type of entry, this provider would have needed imaging guidance to drive the trocar deep and then taken small 5 cc samples as the trocar was extracted. That didn’t happen; in fact, all the provider seems to do is to turn the handle of the trocar, which won’t do that much if you’re drawing from the same site.

See my video below for more details on how to perform a proper BMA based on the peer-reviewed literature:

Dosing Versus Sites Treated: Spreading Out a Good Thing Too Far Is a Bad Thing

If all this video showed was a poor-technique bone marrow draw from the wrong side of the patient, then “TO” would be in the same place as about 80% of patients out there who get these procedures. Because he’s still young and fit, if all they were treating was his knee, the procedure may have been fine. Meaning his stem cell counts may have been high enough to compensate for everything the physician was doing to hamstring the procedure. However, there was more that finally caused me to make this my second episode of “Botched” Stem Cell.

You can hear the nurse in the TMZ video call out a long list of items they intend to treat with this procedure. In fact, it’s 10 areas! This includes both knees, bilateral triceps, bilateral shoulders, right hip greater trochanter, lower back, hamstring, and groin! As stated above, the dose for each of these matters! In our average, much better accomplished multisite draw from the right site, with advanced lab-based processing and dosing, we would likely get enough stem cells to treat two large joints. This provider is trying to stretch far fewer cells to four large joints and five tendon areas. Not to mention we have no idea what he’s doing with the low back.


The upshot? We have providers out there who can perform a high-quality bone marrow stem cell procedure. They are part of our network and there are even some who aren’t Regenexx providers. These doctors draw from the right area, take the time to perform small aspirations from many sites, and only treat a few areas based on dose. As you can see by this video, they are, however, few and far between. So seek out these high-quality providers. You’ll be glad you did!

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18 thoughts on “Terrell Owens Gets Stem Cell Treatments?

  1. Dianne R

    Hi Dr. Centeno, I had the Stem Cell procedure done in July 2015 for both knees. I think I was given a good dose of stem cells for both knees. I was very pleased with the outcome. I could actually go back to hiking 3-4 times a week. However recently I’ve noticed a slight decline in function in both knees and a slight increase in pain at the 2 1/2 year point. Is this normal? How long have you seen this procedure last for bone on bone arthritis in the knees? Thank you for your time.

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      Most “bone on bone” patients get from 2-5 years of relief and often do need repeat treatments in that time frame.

      1. Peter

        What about after 2-5 years? Do repeat treatments continue to bring relief beyond that time frame or is 2-5 years the maximum?

        1. Chris Centeno Post author

          Generally, they continue to bring relief…

          1. Rod Sellers

            Dr. Centeno,
            I have experienced decent results with Regeenex with my knee and back procedure and I am also very interested in this question, and with all due respect your answer seems vague? I sincerely appreciate your dedication and professionalism and thank you for your help.

          2. Chris Centeno Post author

            Not meant to be vague, just busy. The last registry-based analysis we did showed that patients who got second or third procedures continued to do well. That’s also consistent with my experience that patients who get 2-5 years of relief and then repeat do well again.

  2. Mike

    Do you feel the harvest of bone marrow could do both shoulders and thumbs in one visit? Could you pm me with approx cost?

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      Likely…just depends on yield after the cells are counted. If your doctor isn’t counting the total cell yield, find a new doctor.

  3. Mary Scott

    How long would we have to stay in the Cayman Islands to culture enough stem cells to do lower back, knees and ankles? Can you give me an idea of the cost of staying there – plus the cost of the therapy. A short range of costs.
    Also, if we can’t afford going to the Caymans, do you know Michael N Brown in Washington State? They tell me he sits on a Board with you.
    Thank you,
    Mary Scott

    1. Regenexx Team

      Treatment in Grand Cayman is done in two trips. The first trip includes the exam and bone marrow aspiration, and treatment is done 4-6 weeks later. Dr. Centeno did used to sit on a board with Dr.Brown. When considering treatment in the US, these are the top 8 things important for effective treatment: https://regenexx.com/blog/orthopedic-stem-cell-treatment/ There is also a Regenexx provider right in Bellevue. Please see: https://orthoregenerative.com/ We’ll have our team contact you with more details about treatment in Grand Cayman.

  4. Kathy McHugh

    I have AVN both hips, without femoral head collapse since Sept 2016. MRI reports 75% involvement of right femural head and 40-50% of left. I have lupus with prior kidney involvement, ongoing Low WBC count between 2000-3000, have been off steroids/chemo for 18 years but am on low dose Cell cept (anti rejection medication) and plaquenil. Have you treated anyone this much damage, with anyone who has had lupus? My left hip has no pain and my right has pain at times. I take no pain meds. Does this treatment just delay a total hip? What is the cost? Does insurance pay for any of the treatment? I am currently 56 years old, working full time, but now limit my activity due AVN. What are your results with AVN of hips?

    Also just recently found out I have bone infarct distal femur but told there is nothing done for this. I see my orthopedic doctor tomorrow. Do you ever discuss your options with general orthopedic surgeons or rheumatologists?? Thank you.

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      Kathy, at this point, these are usually not insurance covered procedures. Your low WBC count could impact your ability to respond to a same-day stem cell injection procedure. Your anti-rejection medication may also negatively impact your ability to respond as can your lupus. When the right patients are treated, the data collected and reported since the 1990s shows that for many patients, this procedure gets rid of the need for a hip replacement and cures the disease.

      1. kathy mchugh

        Can you please speak in more detail how my WBC would have impact on ability to respond to procedure? And does the anti-rejection medication effect the viability of of stem cells? How would the lupus negatively impact success of the treatment?

        Do you treat people with AVN using PRP if they may not be a candidate for the stem cell procedure? If so, what would be the frequency of the treatment?

        I am trying to make sure I have exhausted all avenues of treatment so I don’t have any what if’s… my rheumatolgist had wanted me to get core decompression but there was not consensus in the orthopedic field- got 5 opinions…3 were not for it and 2 were for it. What are you thoughts about core decompression for me? My current orthopedic doctor said I am defeating the odds. From what I read usually within 2-5 years if you do nothing it progresses to collapse. Thank you very much for you honest and medical opinion. I am extremely grateful! Sorry so long.

        1. Chris Centeno Post author

          Too much personal medical detail for a blog comment. I will have staff reach out to you to see if they can get one of our doctors on the phone to review all of this information.

  5. Karen Dukes

    I would like to have more information on treatment in the Grand Caymen. I had a consultation with Regenerativa in GRASS valley CA and he said my chances would greatly improve if I traveled to the Caymen for this treatment on my hips.

    1. Regenexx Team

      We’ll be glad to send you information on treatment in Grand Cayman. Determining who is, and who isn’t, a good Candidate for each type of treatment is very important.

  6. Peter Salvatori

    Is the 2 to 5 years relief for bone on bone knee pertain to the same day US procedure or the Caymens cultured stem cell procedure??

    1. Chris Centeno Post author


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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