Getting knee replacement surgery doesn’t sound like a fun time to anyone. There’s a lot that goes into any surgery and this type is no different, especially while dealing with arthritis on top of everything else. Usually, the reason for a knee replacement is damage from arthritis but this isn’t always the case. Either way, if it can be avoided, plenty of people would probably rather not go through it at all.
Now, with modern medicine reaching new heights all the time, it’s possible to use stem cells in place of the surgery. Stem cell treatments to help knee damage is not only possible these days but is slowly becoming a more normalized practice. That said, there should at least be a comparison of the two to make sure you’re actually coming out of this with the better deal.
Knee Replacement Surgery
Different types of arthritis affect the knee joint, especially osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and traumatic arthritis. All of these do different things, like cause inflammation or break down cartilage, but they all end with the same general result. There are other reasons people may seek out knee replacement surgery, too, but some of those won’t be alleviated by stem cells. Still, the procedures are the same.
How the Knee Works
The knee itself is two groups of muscles that work to bend the leg. The bones are the two long leg bones which connect these muscles, the tibia or shin bone and the femur or thigh bone. There are also tendons involved to connect the muscle and bone.
Clearly, this isn’t all there is at play. There’s still the knee cap, cartilage to reduce friction at the joint, the meniscus which is basically a shock absorber, and ligaments to connect it all together. The surgery replaces all of the damaged parts and replaces them. The damaged parts are usually the cartilage, knee cap, and even parts of the bone.
What the Surgery Entails
The surgery itself is pretty much in the name. They’re actually going in and replacing the knee with a prosthesis. The prosthesis is made of plastic and metal which attaches to the bone with surgical cement. Before the replacement, the surgeon will make an 8 to 10-inch incision on the front of the knee and remove the damaged parts as well as what’s needed to make room for the surgical cement. Those other removed parts include the surfaces of the thigh bone and shin bone near the joint.
Once the surgery is over and you’re let out of the hospital usually after several days, physical therapy begins to make sure you move the new joint. There will be activity restrictions, modifications to the home to prevent falls, and usually pain associated with the knee in question. Despite the problems, all of these things are typically seen as better than living with the degenerative knee. So much so that about 600,000 Americans opt to get the surgery every year.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy for anything is still not FDA approved, which can cause some bumps in the road. For getting treatments with knees specifically, the cost is usually about $2,000 per treatment. This money is out-of-pocket, too, as it’s very rare for an insurance company to pay for stem cell therapy. This doesn’t leave a majority of people with a lot of options, but there are still a lot of bright sides to going the stem cell route.
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How the Stem Cells Are Used
Stem cells are so special because they have the unique ability to turn into any other cell. To reduce the chance of rejection, stem cells for cases like this are often taken directly from the patient rather than resorting to embryonic stem cells, which not only come with moral complications but are also very expensive. The stem cells from the patient are usually taken from the bone marrow or fat tissues.
The stem cells are then injected to the source of the problem. Knee replacement is usually needed because damaged or worn down cartilage in turn damages the joint and causes pain. The stem cells can repair cartilage and decrease inflammation of the knee. They can also stop all arthritic damage, leading to a delayed or avoided surgery.
As touched on previously, those who had to go through the surgery faced lifestyle changes. Modifications to the home like handrails and prevention from continuing exercise and sports are common after a knee replacement surgery, not to mention physical therapy and the resulting medical bills from the entire stint.
When looking at things from this point of view, the $2,000 out-of-pocket for stem cell treatment doesn’t look so bad anymore, though insurance still won’t pay for anything most of the time. Regardless, lifestyle changes aren’t necessary with this sort of treatment. People have been able to go back to their hobbies and sports as early as two treatments later.
A lot of recovery has to depend on how bad the knee is and how early treatment is introduced. Some who do seek stem cell therapy may still have to undergo the surgery anyway. The trick here is to act instead of wait as the sooner everything is done, the sooner you can get back to life.
Which One Is Better?
For all intents and purposes, stem cell therapy is the way to go. Even with moral obligations resting on the sidelines, these stem cells are coming from the patient and no one else. However, multiple treatments may have to be involved and the bills will start piling up so long as insurance won’t pay for the treatments.
On the other hand, knee replacement surgery is something a lot of people have to go through. Physical therapy and surgeons are used to this practice as they’ve been doing it for years, so there’s a lot of experience to fall back on. That said, there’s going to be a lot of lifestyle changes and potential pain involved, not to mention the actual surgery itself. Avoiding surgery is almost always the better solution if the situation can be resolved another way. Stem cells might just be that other way.
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