Recent research is showing that stem cell therapy is becoming a new and possibly more effective way of treating some common foot conditions. Common foot conditions are generally treated with various forms of orthotic or physical therapy, medication or steroid injections. Some conditions require surgery and can be painful and disruptive to your everyday life.
Although the stem cell treatments are still experimental, they are becoming a topic of conversation among many podiatrists.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells are cells found in the human body (adult and embryonic) that have the ability to divide and develop into different cells during early growth. The difference between stem cell therapy and embryonic stem cell research is in the cells’ abilities in the number and type of cells they can become. Embryonic stem cells can become all types of cells in the human body; additionally these stem cells can divide without any limit to replenish other cells in living organisms. Adult stem cells are limited in their abilities to become other cells and are harder to find in large concentrated amounts.
Stem cell therapy is when new adult stem cells are introduced into damaged tissue in the body to treat various diseases and injuries. Since the new stem cells being introduced can replace, reproduce and renew the damaged cells and tissues this type of therapy is being explored for numerous disorders and conditions.
Scientists who encourage the use and development of stem cell therapy are in favor of it because it offers minimal risk of rejection and side effects and is non-invasive. However, more research still needs to be conducted to fully understand the behavior of the cells after being transplanted.
How Stem Cells can be used for Foot Care
Podiatrists are looking into stem cell therapy as treatment for common conditions such as:
- Plantar fasciitis. A condition where the heel of the foot becomes inflamed and causes severe pain.
- Achilles tendonitis. This is irritation and inflammation of the tendon that connects to the heel. This condition can also be very painful.
- Osteoarthritis. A form of arthritis that refers to the gradual wearing down of cartilage in your joints.
- Soft tissue damage. If damaged, the soft tissue in your feet and ankles can swell.
The idea behind using stem cell therapy for foot care is that those individuals who are suffering from severe foot or ankle pain, or those who may be facing surgery due to their conditions, can be treated in a short period of time with a simple injection. This is how it works:
- Stem cells are obtained through a bone marrow sample—this procedure is not the same as a bone marrow biopsy, which can be extremely painful. This can usually be done in a doctor’s office with an ultrasound or x-ray precision for guidance in locating the stem cell reserves.
- After the sample is collected, it needs to be treated to remove excess cells. A concentrated sample of stem cells is needed for the therapy.
- These cells are injected into the body in the affected area of your foot.
- The injected cells work to repair damaged tissues, tendons or joints by replacing the damaged cells.
Even though stem cell therapy seems like a miracle solution for painful foot conditions, just like any procedure, it has pros and cons.
Drawbacks of stem cell therapy for foot care include:
- It is still very experimental
- Results have not been 100 percent conclusive
- Injections can be painful
- It is controversial in the United States
Scientists are developing theories on stem cells every day and research is ongoing, but stem cell research for foot care is becoming widely discussed and may eventually be a viable solution for painful conditions. Until then, continue to talk to your podiatrist about how to best treat your foot problems.