In recent years, there have been dramatic advances in stem cell therapy. The treatments are more effective than ever before. Stem cell treatments are also used to treat an increasing number of diseases, such as: diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Increasingly, stem cell therapy is being used instead of surgery to treat a variety of issues, from joint replacement to ligament and tendon damage. This raises a question for doctors and patients: Stem cell vs surgery? This article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the two approaches.
Stem Cell Therapy vs. Surgery
As the United States population ages, more Americans need surgery, especially on their knees. The majority of knee surgeries are total knee replacements. Knee replacements can be costly and the recovery can be challenging for some people, especially those with underlying health challenges. However, in recent years, thanks to advances in stem cell therapy, more patients are being treated with stem cells.
Although stem cell therapy is most commonly used to treat cartilage degeneration in the knees (instead of a total knee replacement), it can also be an effective alternative for other types of surgery. For example, stem cells can be used to treat ligament tears and tendon ruptures, such as an Achilles heel rupture.
It is important to remember that surgery, unfortunately, has many risks. These risks are elevated for older patients. For example, an older person may have complications from anesthesia (including an increased risk of death). An older person may struggle to regain mobility after surgery; and, similarly, surgery may raise the risk of developing blood clots. Stem cell therapy does not have these risks.
Stem cell therapy may also be an attractive option for cost conscious patients. On average, stem cell therapy costs $5,000 per knee. This is a fraction of the cost of surgery, especially if you consider rehab costs post-surgery. Stem cell therapy for tendon ruptures and other medical problems may also be far more affordable than traditional surgery.
Lower risks and reduced costs are only two of the benefits of stem cell therapy. Research shows that stem cell therapy is more successful in generating long-term benefits and reduced pain. For example, after surgery, many patients still experience lingering knee pain and other issues. These problems are greatly reduced with stem cell therapy.
For an example of how stem cell therapy can help patients with knee problems, read this article from ABC News: Stem Cells: Alternative to Knee Replacement? The article describes how a 72-year-old woman opted for stem cell therapy instead of double knee replacement surgery. She experienced a drastic improvement in her knees after the stem cell treatments.
The Recovery Process for Stem Cell Therapy
The recovery process for stem cell therapy is much easier and shorter than surgical recovery. This is undoubtedly a good thing! Because stem cell therapy is not invasive, people do not need to go through intensive rehab. Most people do not experience any pain or swelling after 24 hours. This means they can quickly return to their normal life.
A relatively pain free recovery also means that patients do not need to take painkillers or NSAIDS (unlike after many surgeries). Given current concerns about the prescription drug crisis, this is a good thing.
The Recovery Process for Surgery
The recovery process for any surgery can be fraught with pain and potential complications. For example, after knee replacement surgery, many people struggle to return to their previous baseline. In a best case scenario, it takes people 8 – 10 weeks to return to normal levels of functioning. This recovery period may be extended even further if a patient develops an infection, blood clot, or other complication.
Often recovery includes a week or more in an in-patient rehab center. These stays can be extremely costly.
For younger patients, these extended recovery times may interfere with their family life or cause problems at work.
The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is much more affordable than most traditional treatment approaches. Let’s look at the costs for stem cell therapy for the knees. Estimates suggest that the cost is approximately $5,000 per knee in the United States. These costs will likely come down in the years to come as the treatment becomes more widely available. Costs may also be lower in other countries if patients are willing to travel.
The Cost of Surgery
Now, let’s compare stem cell costs for the knee with total knee replacement prices. The cost of total knee replacement surgery is high. Estimates suggest that the treatment may cost more than $50,000 per knee. This can increase if a patient experiences any complications, and costs are only likely to go up in the future. Most of these costs are covered by insurance. However, patients may have to pay some rehab costs out-of-pocket.
What About Safety?
In the medical sphere, safety means lower risks for patients. Stem cell therapy has significantly fewer risks than traditional surgeries. Stem cell therapy reduces the risk of infections and also cuts the likelihood that a patient will develop dangerous blood clots. Patients also do not need general anesthesia which may be risky.
Is Stem Cell Therapy Safer?
Most experts believe stem cell therapy is significantly safer than most surgeries. There are fewer risks and the severity of potential problems is lower. Stem cell therapy has almost no complications, particularly for healthy patients.
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Would Surgery Be Considered More Tried and True?
This is a difficult question that even experts disagree about. Some experts say that surgery, such as a total knee replacement, is more tried and true, since it has been the go to treatment for several decades. Other experts point to statistics that show that stem cell therapy results are consistently better than surgery outcomes.
The answer to this question may also very across patients. It is important for each patient to discuss the benefits and risks of stem cell therapy versus surgery with their medical providers. After consultation, they should pick the option that is right for them, balancing risks, benefits, and costs.
Many older Americans experience orthopedic problems, such as joint degeneration. For decades, the answer to this pain has been surgical. Surgery though is expensive and recovery can be long. It also has many potential risks, such as: blood clots and post-surgery infections. In recent years, there has been a dramatic improvement in stem cell therapies. This treatment is used for a wide variety of diseases, as well as orthopedic issues. Stem cells are injected directly into the body part that needs treating. Within 24 hours, most patients are back to their normal lifestyle with no complications and little to no pain. Research suggests that long-term results for stem cell treatments are also promising. And, in years to come, stem cell therapy may be a possible alternative for even more surgeries.
More research still needs to be done. And patients need to carefully evaluate, with their doctors, stem cell therapy vs. surgery before deciding on treatment.
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