15 Stem Cell Therapy Questions, Answered

//15 Stem Cell Therapy Questions, Answered

15 Stem Cell Therapy Questions, Answered

Stem cell therapy is an exciting area of research that holds tremendous potential for helping chronic pain patients reduce their pain. Rapid advances in this field of medicine are buoying doctors’ and patients’ hopes that the exciting therapy could change lives. Advances are being made nearly every day, and as scientists further understand the nature of these cells, even more uses for them are becoming known. If you’ve ever wondered about how stem cell therapy for pain could help you, these 15 questions delve into how this therapy works and who it could be used for.

1. What is stem cell therapy?

Science has a strong interest in stem cells because of their renewing properties and the ability of these cells to develop into any type of tissue in the body of the organism. Researchers believe that they have the potential for immeasurable clinical uses in health. Research is advancing many stem cell based therapies for people who suffer from diseases such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Type I diabetes
  • Duchene’s muscular dystrophy
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Severe burns
  • Other damaged or diseased body tissues

Mayo Clinic explains how this therapy works:

Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the reparative response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives…Researchers grow stem cells in a lab. These stem cells are manipulated to specialize into specific types of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells or nerve cells. The specialized cells can then be implanted into a person.”

2. What’s the difference between stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine? 

Stem cell therapy is actually a type of treatment within the larger umbrella of regenerative medicine. Our longer post on regenerative medicine discusses the types of treatments available, including stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma injections.

3. What is a stem cell?

Stem cells are essentially blank canvases that can transform into any type of cell in the human body. Specialized cells like bone cells, liver cells, and heart cells begin as stem cells. The process of the cells transforming from blank slates into specialized cells is called differentiation.

Stem cell therapy is the process of injecting these cells into damaged areas of the body, such as arthritic knees or shoulders. The stem cells then differentiate into damaged tissue, helping to regenerate the entire area.

There are two different types of natural stem cells and one that is genetically reprogrammed within the laboratory. Embryonic stem cells are the most immature and are found within the early stages of a growing embryo, usually after it has been left to develop five to six days. After the egg and sperm have united, the fertilized egg divides and creates stem cells that differentiate into the specialized cells the body requires to function. Many techniques using stem cells for pain therapies no longer rely on these types of stem cells.

The second type of stem cell, found naturally in organisms, is adult stem cells. These are present in developed tissue, such as muscle, skin, bone, brain, and blood. Also called tissue stem cells, they can self-renew and generate one specialized cell type. Under normal circumstances these tissue stem cells, or adult stem cells, will generate the type of cells that make up the organ in which they reside. These cells are used by the body to divide and repair injured areas or regenerate into specialized cells to replace the ones that are dead or damaged.

The third type of stem cells, which are genetically reprogrammed in the laboratory, are induced pluripotent stem cells. After years of stem cell research and development, it was discovered that artificially triggering certain genetic components would prompt different cells to become pluripotent stem cells, which were similar in nature to embryonic stem cells. This helps avoid ethical concerns associated with using human embryonic tissue for research and regenerative medicine.

The following video from an Arizona pain doctor goes into detail about how stem cell therapy for pain works.

4. What are the types of stem cells?

There are two major types of stem cells: those harvested from adults and those harvested from embryonic tissues.

However, there are other ways to retrieve stem cells that reduce the use of embryonic stem cells, including:

  • Blood and skin stem cells that are harvested from an adult patient’s own bodily tissues that are then reprogrammed to express embryonic characteristics
  • Stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord of a baby after its birth
  • Mesenchymal stem cells that are found in the bone marrow

As the Euro Stem Cell organization reports, some of these types of stem cells are more effective than others.

5. Where do stem cells come from?

One source of stem cells is human embryos. These cells are called pluripotent stem cells, and they’re very useful to researchers because they can be multiplied indefinitely in the laboratory. Although these cells are often cultivated from embryos that are just a few days old, they can also be taken from fetal tissue that’s older than eight weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The majority of therapeutic stem cells come from adults. Even though embryos are the richest source of stem cells, humans of all ages have stem cells. Stem cells give adults the ability to replace damaged tissue, heal wounds, and grow hair. The patient’s own adult stem cells are extracted, purified, concentrated, and then injected into the damaged tissue. This process is usually non-surgical and the individual has very little recovery time. Most patients report only some soreness around the site of the injection. Sometimes there is also slight bruising. There have been no reports of serious side effects from treatments using stem cell therapy.

Newer research has given scientists the ability to reprogram specialized adult cells so they essentially return to their original stem cell state. These reprogrammed cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells. Although this ability exists, scientists aren’t sure how or if these artificially created stem cells behave differently than other types.

Despite these unknowns, the reprogrammed stem cells are already being used in the development of medicines and helping scientists learn more about specific types of diseases, according to NIH.

6. Why are stem cells important?

Stem cells have many uses, and the full spectrum of their application isn’t yet known. One way stem cells are helping researchers is by illuminating the inner workings of various diseases. Stem cells offer scientists the ability to model human disease progression in a laboratory setting.

This is exciting because many studies rely on animals with similar, but not exact, biology to humans. The more scientists can understand about human-specific disease progression, the greater insight they have regarding potential treatments.

For example, one of the earliest uses for stem cells were bone marrow transplants, used to help patients with leukemia or sickle cell anemia heal. This treatment has been used for more than 40 years. In addition, stem cell therapy may be used to treat:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Autism
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Nerve damage
  • Chronic pain
  • Lupus
  • Knee pain
  • Hip pain
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Leukemia
  • Cornea injuries
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Severe burns
  • Sports injuries

15 Stem Cell Therapy Questions, Answered | PainDoctor.com

7. What’s the recent research on stem cells?

The application of most interest to chronic patients is likely the emerging field of regenerative medicine, which is the science of helping tissues regenerate. This field examines the potential of stem cells to repair damaged tissue and heal areas of the body — bone and potentially organs, too — affected by arthritis, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, Parkinson’s disease, and more.

Exciting research has also uncovered the potential for stem cells to expand the number of lungs available for transplant. A portion of lungs available for transplant aren’t used because they become damaged. However, research from the American Physiological Society has found stem cells could help repair the organs and prepare them to save lives.

Other recent research stories include:

  • A 21-year-old paralyzed patient regained use of his arms and hands thanks to a stem cell therapy treatment
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center awarded a $6.8 million grant to study stem cell treatments for adults with traumatic brain injury
  • An MS patient finding the ability to walk again after trying stem cell therapy

8. What are stem cell research pros and cons? 

For many of the studies underway, time is needed to fully examine the benefits and potential dangers of this treatment. Another obstacle is obtaining specific types of adult stem cells. They’re difficult to grow in the laboratory, making it hard to produce the large numbers available for research.

Another potential issue with donor stem cells is the possibility of rejection. The immune system of the recipient could reject the cells, essentially making it difficult for the treatment to work as intended and causing ancillary problems.

Finally, since this is such a new treatment area, some government agencies are calling for more oversight of its use. Others are pushing back, claiming that stem cell therapy provides a new area of treatment for patients who have exhausted all other options.

That being said, even though there are complications and roadblocks to its use, the benefits of stem cell therapy could be huge. As the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine notes:

“[A]n analysis of the potential benefits of stem cells based therapies indicates that 128 million people in the United States alone may benefit with the largest impact on patients with Cardiovascular disorders (5.5 million), autoimmune disorders (35 million) and diabetes (16 million US patients and more than 217 million worldwide).”

9. What’s the current governance on stem cell therapy? 

California’s Stem Cell Agency gives a great overview of this process, noting:

“In order to be approved by the FDA for use in human trials, stem cells must be grown in good manufacturing practice (GMP) conditions. Under GMP standards, a cell line has to be manufactured so that each group of cells is grown in an identical, repeatable, sterile environment. This ensures that each batch of cells has the same properties, and each person getting a stem cell therapy gets an equivalent treatment. Although the FDA hasn’t yet issued guidelines for how pluripotent stem cells need to meet GMP standards, achieving this level of consistency could mean knowing the exact identity and quantity of every component involved in growing the cells.”

10. How does stem cell therapy for pain help? 

Stem cell therapy is being studied for a number of chronic pain conditions, especially pain in the:

  • Knees
  • Back
  • Hips
  • Elbows

Stem cell therapy for pain could help reduce the inflammation that results in chronic pain, or it could help to heal regenerative conditions that lead to pain, such as arthritis.

15 Stem Cell Therapy For Pain Questions, Answered | PainDoctor.com

11. Does stem cell therapy for knees work?

Using stem cell therapy for knee pain is one of the leading areas of research. Stem cell therapy for knees can be provided as stem cell injections or as blood platelet treatments from the body itself (another form of regenerative medicine). These two treatments may help relieve pain associated with:

  • Cartilage tear
  • Meniscus injury
  • ACL or MCL tear
  • Chronic knee pain
  • Arthritis
  • Overuse conditions

The leading researchers on stem cell therapy for knee pain claim that it can help patients avoid surgery, with its associated costs and risks.

12. What about stem cell therapy for hips? 

Since stem cell therapy promises to treat a number of conditions related to degenerative conditions, like arthritis and tendonitis, stem cell therapy may present a great treat option for hip pain related to these causes.

13. What about stem cell therapy for MS?

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is leading the efforts in research, but currently reports the following:

“At present, there are no approved stem cell therapies for MS. Larger, longer-term, controlled studies are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of using stem cells to treat MS. When the results of these and subsequent clinical trials are available, it should be possible to determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of these current experimental therapies might be for different people with MS.”

14. Can stem cell therapy alleviate back pain?

Potentially. One of our sister clinics, Arizona Pain, is participating in a study evaluating the potential of stem cells to reduce back pain related to degenerative disc disease. This progressive condition sometimes results from injury, but other times has no clear cause.

The study is exciting because it involves stem cells harvested from the bone marrow of healthy, young adults, and therefore it doesn’t come with the ethical concerns of embryonic stem cells. So far, the results have been very positive, and a significant number of people who received stem cells for their back pain have experienced reduced discomfort and improved quality of life.

This study is currently in Phase III, which is the phase immediately preceding potential FDA approval. This means it could soon be available to many more patients and potentially covered by insurance, although each insurance company’s coverage policy varies.

15. Are people looking into stem cell therapy for arthritis? 

Absolutely, and the research into this area is very promising. In fact, scientists have recently uncovered the specific type of stem cell most likely to reduce arthritis pain. They’re special cells that are specifically able to rebuild tissue, bone, and cartilage, potentially offering much relief to osteoarthritis patients.

What other questions do you have regarding stem cell therapy for pain? If you’re ready to learn more about using stem cell therapy to treat your pain, click the button below to find a pain specialist in your area. 

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By | 2018-05-10T15:43:45-07:00 May 8th, 2018|Tags: , |33 Comments

About the Author:

Pain Doctor
Pain Doctor was created with one mission in mind: help and educate people about their pain conditions, treatment options and find a doctor who can help end their pain issues.


  1. Avatar
    Annette Merkley March 6, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    ~ do you think there is any hope in treating people with CRPS/RSD with stem cell therapy?

  2. Avatar
    Barbara Mueller March 9, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I deal with severe chronic back pain and tried everything before going on strong meds, but ended up having to go that route. I have a failed fusion for scoliosis, (pseudarthrosis.) My health is excellent otherwise.
    Could I be considered for trials in the research?

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor March 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Barbara — Unfortunately we can’t answer specific health questions online. We recommend finding a pain specialist in your area who also does stem cell therapy and talking to them about the possibility of being in a trial. You can find pain specialists at https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/. Hope that helps!

  3. Avatar
    Mary dowlng June 5, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Will this stem cell therapy help get rid of pain from fibromyalgia???

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Mary — Unfortunately we can’t answer specific health questions online. We recommend finding a pain specialist in your area who also does stem cell therapy and talking to them about if it could help with your fibro. You can find pain specialists at https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/. Hope that helps!

  4. Avatar
    Rachel Lannister June 27, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I had heard that stem cells were the future of medicine and could be used for a variety of uses. You wrote that stem cells can help heal cartilage tears, chronic knee pain, and is also being used to treat conditions in the hips. With the amount of issues it can help treat, it makes sense that people are so interested in seeing stem cell professionals and seeing if it could help resolve their issues.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor August 14, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks for sharing Rachel!

  5. Avatar
    Mary August 12, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    I have had an injury to the femoral bone at the knee with bone edema. It is causing quite a bit of pain, with no relief offered other than rest. I have an appointment with a local pain management Dr soon. Do you think I would be a candidate for stem cell therapy!

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor August 14, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Mary — We can’t know for sure, but definitely talk to your doctor about the option. Best of luck with your appointment!

  6. Avatar
    Robert Atterberry September 14, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I have lots of pain from hip and knee and foot.
    Is stem cell covered by Medicare?

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor September 18, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      Hi Robert — You’ll have to ask your doctor directly about payment questions.

  7. Avatar
    Billy Ryals September 26, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Any help with Muscular Dystrophy “FacialScapulaHumeral Dystrophy..ItSelf and the Constant Pain n Fatigue Daily /Nightly..

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 2, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Billy — Unfortunately we can’t answer specific health questions online. We recommend finding a pain specialist in your area at https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/. Hope that helps!

  8. Avatar
    Randy Shane October 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Do madicaid paid for it

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 16, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      Hi Randy — Not typically but we recommend talking to your doctor directly about payment options.

  9. Avatar
    Horace Smith October 16, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    I’m morally opposed to the use of embryonic tissue. Can the cell source be known prior to treatment? I’m 76 and have arthritis in my shoulders, back and knee. I’ve already responded to an advertisement and made reservations to attend a seminar. However, I will cancel if the source of the cells cannot be identified before treatment.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 23, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Hi Horace — Yes, you can absolutely inquire as to the source of the stem cells. There are non-embryonic options available for some therapies. Talk to your doctor for more information.

  10. Avatar
    Gayle November 5, 2017 at 11:36 am

    What is the cost of this process.

  11. Pain Doctor
    Pain Doctor November 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Gayle — You’ll have to talk to your doctor about specific costs. If you don’t already have one, you can find a doctor in your area through either of these searches: https://paindoctor.com/get-relief-now/ or https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.

  12. Avatar
    Lydia February 7, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Hello I have a friend who is suffering from chronic pain due to hernia repair with mesh for 4 hernias. He is in alot of pain. Hes got an appointment with pain management but i was looking into stem cell therapy to see if this would be a good option for him. Could stem cells relieve him from the pain and stop the underlying issue. The surgeon said that its the nerve. And on this page it says stem cells help and could even regenerate nerve cells? Could this help? He needs help.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor February 12, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Hi Lydia — Unfortunately we can’t answer specific medical questions on the blog. We recommend that he talks to his pain management doctor about any questions he has.

  13. Avatar
    Lois Widly April 5, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    are Stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord of a baby after its birth
    first does this mean that the mother gives her permission and the cells are retrieved from the umbilical cord after a live baby is born?

    is it correct that the stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord after the cord is cut so that the newborn is not utilized?

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor April 8, 2018 at 4:29 pm

      Hi there Lois — Yes, typically the stem cells are harvested after the baby is born and the mother always has to give consent. You can talk more to your doctor about where they source their stem cells from.

  14. Avatar
    Lois Widly April 5, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    What are the options for adult stem cells for older adults (generally good health 80 year olds) still effective or must umbilical cord cells most reccomended?

  15. Avatar
    Rod Trevino July 24, 2018 at 6:02 am

    I saw that this type of treatment could help with Type 1 diabetes and its issues with pain but what about Type 2 diabetes and diabetic neuropathy too.

  16. Avatar
    linear July 25, 2018 at 5:48 am


  17. Avatar
    Kimberly Eck November 16, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Does this therapy work for plantar fasciitis? I’ve tried cortisone shots, ice, used the boot, use special orthotics and even electric shock therapy….nothing is working!!!!!

  18. Avatar
    jack brandenburg January 24, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Can the area of repair be damaged beyond stem cells ability to heal? I really need to know this for i got stem cell injections 6 months ago in both shoulders and lower lumbar for i feel no improvement. The stem cells were obtained from embryonic tissue.

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