Osteoarthritis is essentially the breakdown of the cartilage of your joints over time. We sometimes compare this to when the brake pads in your car wear out. This breakdown can occur through normal wear and tear of the joint as we age, but can be accelerated by other causes. As we age, it is likely that we all will get some form of osteoarthritis of the joints. The severity of the arthritis will determine how much intervention may be required to ease pain.
Factors such as obesity, injuries, surgeries and genetics can increase the speed at which the joint breaks down. To use another simple analogy, think of your cartilage like the tread on a tire. Over many miles, the tread wears down based on the load placed on the wheels, the alignment of the vehicle, daily impact and the type of use. When that tread wears down too much, it’s time to get a new tire. The cartilage on our knee joints is very much the same. As the cartilage breaks down, eventually the bone and nerve endings are exposed and can be painful.
The first line of treatment with osteoarthritis is to manage the pain starting with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Physical therapy can be helpful to strengthen the weakened joint and improve range of motion. Many patients find short-term relief with cortisone shots for pain and/or gel injections that lubricate and increase the shock absorption of the joint.
If these conservative measures are no longer helpful, surgical intervention through a joint replacement may seem like your only option. However, advancements in regenerative therapies are providing a new hope for many patients struggling with arthritis and knee pain and can delay or possibly even prevent the need for a joint replacement. These newer treatments use biologic elements such as your own adult stem cells and platelets to ease the pain. In some cases, they may regenerate lost cartilage.
As a form of regenerative medicine, stem cell procedures activate your body’s own stem cells to encourage healing and speed repair for bone, muscle, joint, soft tissue and nerve injuries. With this treatment, doctors can concentrate a sample of your stem cells taken from your bone marrow and fat tissue. These stem cells act as the body’s “repairmen” and enable doctors to heal the injuries. With arthritis, the body’s ability to heal may have diminished. When stem cells are concentrated and injected into a joint with arthritis, it can stimulate a new healing response that will ease the pain and may also stimulate the growth of new cartilage in that area.
Because joint replacements do not last forever, trying these more conservative biologic options first may give patients an opportunity to delay or completely avoid major surgery.
Dr. Gobezie is founder/director of The Cleveland Shoulder Institute and Regen Orthopedics. For more information, visit clevelandshoulder.com, regenorthopedics.com. For an appointment, call 844-786-2355.