Knee pain is a very common problem with only a handful of treatments available. One of the most common treatments is knee replacement surgery, which is reserved for some of the most painful knee injuries.
But regenerative therapy is a viable treatment option that should be considered before knee replacement for its effectiveness, affordability, and more.
1. Regenerative therapy has been shown to be effective for treating knee pain
Even though regenerative therapy has yet to be FDA-approved for treating knee pain, there are studies that support its effectiveness.
Researchers at Mayo Clinic conducted the first FDA-approved, blinded and placebo-controlled clinical study for using regenerative therapy to reduce arthritic pain. The study accepted 25 patients with two bad knees. One knee was injected with the regenerative solution and the other knee was injected with a saline control injection. Patients did not know which knee received the regenerative solution or the saline injection.
All 25 patients reported a dramatic improvement in the knee that received the regenerative solution.
2. Regenerative therapy is minimally invasive
When a medical procedure is described as “minimally invasive,” it means that the procedure is performed in a manner that minimizes the use of incisions, or surgical cuts, to avoid scarring or trauma.
Regenerative therapy, then, could be seen as even better than “minimally invasive” because it doesn’t require any incisions and doesn’t leave any scars because it is performed using injections.
3. Regenerative therapy doesn’t require general anesthesia
General anesthesia is one of the greatest medical inventions, and many procedures could not be done safely without it. However, some people are unable to go under the knife with general anesthesia due to pre-existing conditions or certain medications.
When used for knee replacement surgeries, general anesthesia can increase your risk of heart disease or lung disease. If you’re already at high risk for either of these diseases, general anesthesia may make things worse.
Depending on your pain threshold, regenerative therapy can be done with local anesthesia. Unlike general anesthesia, which puts patients in a deep sleep, local anesthesia is applied to the part of the body where the procedure will be performed while a patient is awake. Local anesthesia numbs the area so the patient won’t feel any pain.
4. Regenerative therapy can be used for different kinds of knee pain
People have different kinds, causes, and severities of knee pain. Regenerative therapy is equipped to treat just about every kind of knee pain, from a teenager’s sports injury to a grandparent’s arthritis.
On the other hand, knee replacement is meant for people experiencing arthritis debilitating pain that affects their day to day life. This level of pain can make it difficult, and in some cases, impossible, to perform daily tasks that require walking.
5. Regenerative therapy for knee pain is not as painful as knee replacement surgery
Knee replacement surgery is a very painful process. So painful, in fact, many patients that undergo knee replacement surgery are often prescribed opioids for their pain. Opioids are highly addictive painkillers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths with 40% of these deaths involving a prescription.
Regenerative therapy rarely requires painkillers, let alone prescription opioids.
6. Regenerative therapy has a very low rate of complications compared to knee replacement surgery
Regenerative therapy is a safe procedure with minimal side effects. The most common side effects are joint stiffness, temporary swelling, and mild pain at the injection site. As with any injection-based procedures, there is a small risk of infection.
Knee replacement surgery carries more risks and complications than regenerative therapy. Common complications include the following:
- Allergic reactions
- Bone forming around the artificial joint and restricting movement
- Scar tissue restricting the knee’s movement
- Nerve or artery damage around the joint
- Dislocated knee cap
- Bleeding in the joint
- Worn down implant surfaces
- Loose components
There are more serious complications, too, including:
- Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the legs)
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs)
- Nerve damage
- Continued pain or stiffness
7. Knee replacement surgeries usually need to be performed more than once
Knee replacements are really more of a temporary fix than a permanent solution for knee pain. The replacements themselves are implants made of metal and plastic. The implant is cemented to where the knee joint used to be. Metal and plastic can corrode away over time
Assuming that a knee replacement patient does not undergo a corrective surgery due to complications or due to knee implant recalls, the initial knee replacement will probably need to be done again within 10 to 20 years. One study found that nearly 4% of knee replacement surgery patients needed a second operation (typically referred to as a revision) within 10 years of the initial surgery and 10.3% needed a revision within 20 years of the initial surgery.
In some cases, regenerative therapy needs to be done multiple times; however, there are significantly fewer risks with regenerative therapy than knee replacement surgeries and revisions.
8. Knee replacement surgeries have limits on the number of times they can be performed
Even though knee replacement surgeries often need to be done more than once, there are still limits on how many times a knee can be replaced. While there is not a concrete number, most doctors will draw the line at some point, as each revision will likely be more complicated than the last.
Regenerative therapy is not a procedure that becomes more complicated with each round of treatment. Some patients only need one round of regenerative therapy injections.
9. Regenerative therapy does not require any recovery following treatment
In nearly all cases, patients can go home or back to work after a round of regenerative therapy.
This is not the case for knee replacement surgery. Knee replacement surgery typically involves a stay in the hospital lasting several days. It also requires physical therapy, extra tests, and more appointments.
10. Knee replacement surgery is more expensive than regenerative therapy
Knee replacement is expensive and takes a lot of information into account with how much it costs. The average bill for a total knee replacement in the United States is nearly $60,000 including inpatient and outpatient charges. This number does not take into account additional costs, such as home modifications, lost income due to taking time off for surgery or recovery, or physical therapy. The price tag can vary depending on your insurance provider and coverage.
Even though most regenerative therapies are not covered by insurance, expect it to cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per knee. That’s significantly more affordable than knee replacement already.
11. If regenerative doesn’t work, you can still have your knee replaced…
Regenerative therapy works for many people, but it may not work for you. But it is worth trying regenerative therapy for your knee pain before diving right into getting your knee replaced. The risks are minimal, it’s more affordable than knee replacement surgery, and it’ll be done and over with fairly quickly.
12. But if you have your knee replaced, you can’t try regenerative therapy.
Due to the way regenerative therapy works, regenerative therapy will not work if you’ve already had your knee replaced. Regenerative therapy helps to heal the joint that’s been causing you pain. If your knee joint is artificial, then the cells won’t provide any benefit.