Last time we talked a bit about exciting research into stem cell therapy as a possible treatment for stroke victims.  This time I’d like to discuss how physiatrists like myself use stem cell therapy for the non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal issues, with a focus on the all-important recovery time.

First, a little refresher on stem cell therapy and how it works. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells – akin to a blank sheet of paper or blank canvas. They can become any type of cell in the body, making them a perfect conduit for helping replace and repair torn or worn-out tissue such as muscles, ligaments and tendons. Stem cells can be pulled from amniotic fluid, bone marrow and fat tissue, treated and then injected into a damaged area. A pleasant surprise for most is that fat tissue actually has a higher yield of stem cells than bone marrow. This makes it a more attractive and less invasive source for stem cell retrieval.

The technique is not unlike that used for Plasma-rich platelet injections, but stem cell therapy is a more aggressive approach to musculoskeletal healing.  Where another regenerative injection therapy might take 6-8 sessions or more to be effective, stem cell therapy can have the same impact in as little as one session.

The speed aspect of this treatment has made it appealing for pro athletes who are utilizing the technique to get back in the game. Yet the “wonder cure” aspect of this healing technique should not be overstated. The body still needs time for proper recovery and rehabilitation.

The body will be increasingly sore for a week or more in the area where the stem cell injections occur, because it becomes inflamed as part of the body’s natural way of healing itself. Your body, physiologically, is laying down new tissue.

Think of it like a young sapling. That little tree isn’t strong enough to handle anyone climbing on it or tying an inner tube to it to make a swing. It needs time to mature. So does the tissue that stem cell therapy is helping your body to build. It may take four to eight weeks or more for the tissue to become strong enough for everyday use. Compared with the time it would take to recover from knee or hip replacement surgery, however, and this is still a very speedy process.

Yet, depending on the severity of the injury, it may take a year for tissue grown from stem cell therapy to properly mature.  Physical rehabilitation is more than likely going to be a critical component in recovery.

Other nations are well head of us in utilizing regenerative injection therapy as an alternative to surgery. I’m proud to say I’m the first physician trained to offer stem cell therapy for treatment of damaged muscles and joints, but I expect others will soon join me as the mounting evidence about the efficacy of the techniques continues to grow.

In the meantime, proponents of stem cell therapy such as myself will continue to try to educate the public about how it can be a viable, effective alternative in repairing and healing the body. In my next blog, we’ll talk a bit about how this technique may turn back the trend of hip and knee replacement surgeries in increasingly younger patients.

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A quick note: The next Síclovía is scheduled for Sunday March 30, 2014 and will take place along a new route. The outdoor family friendly fitness event, which has been held on Broadway, will begin at the intersection of East Cesar Chavez Street and South St. Mary’s and run south along East Mitchell Street and Mission Road to Mission Concepción, about a 2.5-mile stretch.

Síclovía is a semi-annual event sponsored by the City of San Antonio and the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. It turns major city streets into a safe space for people to bicycle, skateboard, rollerblade, walk, jog, exercise, and to just have fun. Síclovía runs from 11 am to 4 p.m. on March 30.

By moving Síclovía to a new part of town, organizers hope to get newcomers to come out and take part in the fitness festival, while also encouraging longtime supporters to join in the fun in a different setting. As a member of the Mayor’s Fitness Council, I fully support this event which encourages people to get out and get moving.

For more information, visit

Stay well.