Stem cell therapy is a cutting-edge treatment, hailed as a marvel of modern health care. But many individuals who don’t have a background or experience in the medical field often wonder what it entails, which conditions it can be used to treat, and who might be a good candidate benefit from it.
Garden State Pain & Orthopedics’s Dr. Neil Sinha explained that stem cells are essentially ones that haven’t developed to become part of the skin or an organ. They’re used in regenerative medicine to help damaged tissues repair themselves, resulting in faster healing and pain relief.
“It’s a really great tool,” Dr. Sinha said. “Stem cell therapy can be used for a wide variety of treatments in the pain world. It can be used for elbows, shoulders, the lumbar and cervical spine. It can also be used in the knees, the feet, and the hip.”
As an example, Dr. Sinha said a patient with a rotator cuff tear injury that’s not completely torn could benefit from stem cell therapy by injecting the patient’s own stem cells into the injured area to promote healing.
When thinking about stem cell therapy, it’s important to recognize that it’s not a standalone remedy, the doctor explained.
“Sometimes we use it in conjunction with surgical intervention,” said Dr. Sinha, who takes a multi-pronged approach to helping patients manage pain, including interventional pain techniques, minimally-invasive surgeries, medical management and physical and behavioral therapy. “Sometimes we use it in conjunction with different types of other interventions so it can be used to augment the healing process from conventional-type surgery or in conjunction with other types of medication management or other therapies.”
Dr. Sinha added that regenerative medicine isn’t just putting a bandage over a problem, but is intended to correct the issue over time.
“That really comes in two parts: One, we make efforts to try to heal what's been torn before, and then, two, we provide patients with an exercise program or therapy exercises to strengthen that region so that the tear doesn't occur again,” he said. “I think that's one of the misconceptions about regenerative medicine or really any anything that we do to heal, is that it (the injured area) is going to be brand new. And really, it takes time and effort after something is healed to get it back to where you need it to go by strengthening it.”
Instead of merely treating pain, stem cell therapy addresses the underlying issue.
"People often think of it as a quick fix, and it's really not,” Dr. Sinha said. “It doesn't work as quickly as a cortisone injection. We're essentially trying to heal something, and that can take a few weeks or months on occasion. Over time, patients begin to notice relief. We're trying to get not just pain under control but to treat the underlying problem.”
How is the procedure performed?
With locations in Edison, Clifton, Hazlet, and Jersey City, Garden State Pain & Orthopedics expert physicians perform stem cell therapy in the office. Stem cells used are autologous, which Dr. Sinha explained means that they are taken from a patient's own body rather than from a donor. Most commonly, stem cells are obtained from the patient’s hip.
“This is not a very painful procedure,” he said. “It’s essentially accessing the site where the stem cells are using a larger-type needle, aspirating it, and then separating it using a centrifuge.”
To reintroduce the stem cells into a patient’s body, an ultrasound machine is used to pinpoint the ideal injection site. The entire procedure can be performed in 45 minutes or less, Dr. Sinha said.
In terms of post-therapy side effects, patients may experience mild discomfort for the first several days following the therapy.
“It’s a very well-tolerated procedure with very few side effects,” Dr. Sinha said. “There’s always a chance of bleeding or infection whenever you do any type of intervention, but aside from that, I would say it’s pretty safe.”
Who is a good candidate for stem cell therapy?
While many injury-suffers may hope to reap the benefits of stem cell therapy, it may not be a solution in every case. In situations in which an injury is more extensive, regenerative medicine alone might not be enough.
“We always evaluate an injury and try to give them the best option for what we think is going to be the most effective,” Dr. Sinha said. “We try to stay as minimally-invasive as possible. Unfortunately for some people, their injuries are too far gone and they’d really need something more.”
The best candidates for stem cell therapy are those who have a mild-to-moderate injury and don’t require conventional surgery yet need more than a cortisone injection.
What's covered by insurance?
Those who could benefit from stem cell therapy probably wonder if the procedure is covered by insurance. Dr. Sinha said that the stem cell itself, which is the central component, is not covered by any commercial or private insurance at this time. However, the delivery method is typically covered.
“So, for example, we do it a lot in the back where patients have an annular tear in one of the discs. So the procedure to access the disc is covered by insurance, but the actual cost of the stem cell is not,” Dr. Sinha said..
What sets Garden State Pain Control apart?
With plenty of pain management providers throughout New Jersey, the highly-trained physicians at Garden State Pain & Orthopedics pride themselves on delivering a superior standard of care that distinguishes them from other practices. Doctors collaborate to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan that offers each patient the best chance of recovery through the least invasive approach.
“I think that's what really separates us,” Dr. Sinha said. “We have the ability to do the therapy exercises, the basic cortisone injections, the stem cell therapies, minimally-invasive type surgeries, as well as big, open surgeries. It really depends on what's necessary for the patient. I think that that makes us a lot better than a single provider who really only has one perspective on the patient where we have multiple physicians in multiple specialties who can work together.”
For more information, visit www.gardenstatepain.com or call Edison, 732-376-0330; Clifton, 973-777-5444; Hazlet, 732-376-0330; or Jersey City (973-777-5444).
— Liz Alterman