Stem cell therapies are hardly new. In fact, they are perennially on the cusp of finding their way into mainstream orthopedic medicine. The problem has long been a lack of reproducible findings – and a prohibitive cost.

At least one half of that equation may finally be getting addressed. Doctors are seeing more consistent results with certain stem cell therapies for orthopedic issues such as knee pain and shoulder pain. The process has remained largely unchanged since the technology was invented/discovered:

Doctors use a needle to extract bone marrow from the crest of the hip bone. It’s then sent to a lab, where it is spun down to get at the layer of stem cells — cells that have the potential to become any type of cell.

The stem cells are then combined with the patient’s platelets, a type of blood cell involved in healing. Then, it’s given back to the patient. The idea is to have the stem cells turn into new tissue and improve pain and function. . . .

Typically, this is done for various inflammatory tendon problems, though it can be used  for hips, knees, shoulders, ankles, and spine. Patients usually notice improvement by three months, with full benefit in one year.

It is a promising approach, although the body of literature on stem cell therapies versus traditional knee surgeries remains in its infancy. The best bet if you’re experiencing chronic knee pain: Visit a San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Center and get a full workup.  You will be counseled on the risks and rewards of the various treatment options available to you, based on your unique situation.  We provide PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections among the other various conservative treatment measures. In addition, we are able to provide the complete array of surgical procedures. This broad and comprehensive approach to treating your pain and dysfunction puts us in a unique position of being able to provide you an honest appraisal of your options. Our goal is to make you better!


Here’s what’s tricky about knee surgery. It’s really important that a surgeon pay attention to the complaints a patient has and to corroborate those complaints with physical examination and MRI findings.  When there is the synergy of all three, surgery is warranted and works well.  We know this, and medical literature supports it.

Unfortunately, often times patients have undergone surgery for the wrong indications.  Indications are what surgeons learn in residency and fellowship and can be cured by performing surgery.

Even when surgery is performed for the right indications, the postoperative recovery can take unexpected twists and turns.  Prone to periods of accelerated improvement punctuated by stretches of apparent stasis. For example, there is no calendar for how we recover from ACL knee surgery. Although most often patients ‘recover’ over four to eight months after surgery, our bodies follow their own timeline despite medical efforts.

So when an athlete offers a date for when she expects to be fully recovered from knee surgery, that day isn’t written in stone. Even someone clearly on track to regain full mobility and flexibility can reinjure their knee, setting or even resetting that recovery process back to zero.

All of which brings me to Lindsey Vonn, the world-class athlete whose triumphant return to the slopes at Sochi has been scuttled by reinjury:

Vonn tore her anterior cruciate and medial collateral knee ligaments in a tumbling crash 11 months ago at the world championships, but had appeared to be ahead of schedule in her recovery for the Sochi Olympics until a training crash Nov. 19 in Colorado. At that time, she said that she had partly torn her rebuilt anterior cruciate ligament and would still be able to participate in the Olympics. . .

On Dec. 21, Vonn entered a more demanding World Cup downhill in Val d’Isère, France — with Woods at the bottom of the hill, watching. About halfway through the course, her right knee buckled as she tried to make a high-speed turn, and she skidded off the course. After the race, for the first time, Vonn acknowledged her A.C.L. injury was more severe.

She said the ligament had been ruptured.

She has not been on skis since.

It is a teachable moment and a cautionary tale when an athlete pushes harder than most orthopedic surgeons might recommend in the interest of meeting a deadline. In Vonn’s case, that deadline was the Olympics: who could blame her? We have tons and tons of young elite level female soccer players in San Diego who feel the same drive of getting back out there…push push push.  I’m onboard, as long as the body can keep pace with our type ‘A’ drive. Often times that type ‘A’ drive gets us to the finish line with respect to our strength training and back out on the field to score.  Sometimes athletes get out on the field for contact or agility sports to early and are vulnerable to reinjury.  Know anyone who underwent revision ACL reconstruction?  For those of us non-Olympians with knee injuries recovering from ACL reconstruction here in San Diego, there is nothing quite as effective as rest, patience, rehabilitation….lots and lots of self-directed core-strengthening and agility training!

It all starts with an expert orthopedic surgeon.  One that you can trust will guide you to conservative care when appropriate and to surgery when appropriate.  Seek a consultation with a doctor that will take the time to listen to you, examine you, and properly treat you. To schedule your own San Diego knee surgery, please contact the experts here today.

© 2023 Dr. Robert Afra – San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Shoulder – Knee – Elbow