The cartilage in the knee serves to absorb shock, prevent friction between bones, allows for smooth movement of the knee joint, and plays a role in knee stability. Yet, your knees undergo stress every day. This is especially true if you enjoy sports such as skiing, tennis, running, hiking, or soccer. According to a study conducted by Ann, Intern Med., 25 percent of adults suffer from knee pain. The pain can result from injury, osteoarthritis, manual labor, playing sports or other repetitive motions. Oftentimes the root cause lies in degeneration of knee cartilage.
A great way to target knee pain is to be proactive about cartilage regeneration. The alternative is dire, so you do not want to let the problem reach too far. About 4 million adults in the United States currently have had a knee replacement and millions of others have undergone some form of knee surgery at least once.
Knee operations tend to be major surgeries that take weeks of painful recovery, weeks of missed work, and the possibility of surgical risks such as bleeding, infection, blood clots, and even nerve injury. If you find that your knees already have serious issues and you wish to find alternatives to knee surgery, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to discuss 3 options that may allow you to delay or even prevent knee replacement or other knee surgery in the future. These three options are exercise, dietary supplements, and stem cell therapy.
1. Exercises for Knee Pain
Increasing strength in the large leg muscles and in the small stabilizer muscles surrounding the knee can help your body absorb shock, improve range of motion, speed up recovery time, and prevent future injuries or pain. Exercises can slow cartilage degeneration, allowing your body’s natural healing mechanisms to protect your knee.
There is a plethora of exercises you can do at home or at a gym for strong and pain-free knees. Instead of detailing every single one of them, here are the key concepts that’ll help your knee cartilage health:
- Hamstrings – Strong hamstrings contribute to knee stability and resilience. For people with a damaged or missing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the hamstring muscle is one of the main elements helping stabilize the knee. Hamstring curls tend to be the go-to exercise. However, working this muscle in isolation is not usually the best answer to athletic, functional health. Work your hamstrings on a yoga ball or TRX straps instead.
- Core strength and education – Our body is one constant chain reaction, with all its parts connected and affecting one another. A strong core is essential to your global stability. You will feel additional improvement in the health of your back and knees, as well as all your other joints as your core becomes stronger. Planks on wobbly surfaces and balancing on a bosu ball will help you achieve this goal.
- Stabilizer muscles and balance – We all want to look good and we are prone to prioritizing muscles that are visible. For healthy knees, you also want to work on the small stabilizer muscles that surround the joint. Love squats? Do them on a bosu ball. Love lunges? Do them on a balance board.
- Alignment – The concept is simple. Keep your hip above the knee, the knee above the ankle and keep all of your leg joints in a line. To ensure proper alignment, enhance your workouts by tying elastic bands to your feet. Better yet, embrace your local yoga classes and seek out an instructor that regularly critiques your alignment. Iyengar yoga, where you hold poses for extended periods of time, tends to be great for this purpose.
- Coordination stamina – We’ve all experienced fatigue after strenuous exercise. Fatigue then impacts coordination and can lead to injury and misalignment. Seek out exercises, such as Pilates, to ensure your coordination and alignment are monitored even as fatigue may set in by the end of a session.
- Movement with load – Exercise that combines cyclical motion with light load assists in pumping synovial fluid throughout the knee. The fluid brings vital nutrients into the joint. This is one of the reasons cycling, ski touring, uphill hikes, ellipticals and swimming are so good for the knees.
- Flexibility – To maintain healthy knee cartilage, flexibility is essential. Try to incorporate flexibility into your exercise routines via isometric stretches, physical therapy stretches, or, you guessed it, yoga.
2. Supplements to Support Knee Cartilage Regeneration
There are a variety of nutrients that may alleviate knee pain by reducing inflammation, slowing the breakdown of cartilage, and supporting knee cartilage regeneration. You can find these nutrients in whole foods, or in supplements sold at health stores. Some nutrients are hard to eat in high enough quantity, so we recommend a combination of whole foods and supplements.
Chondroitin sulfate is a common supplement taken by those who suffer from knee pain, especially osteoarthritis. It is a substance that is naturally produced by the body and can be found around the knee joints. The supplement form can potentially slow the breakdown of cartilage in the knee and may reduce pain in the knee.
Glucosamine is naturally found in joints and cartilage where it promotes joint health. The supplement glucosamine has the potential to reduce inflammation and slow collagen breakdown.
Methylsulfonylmethane is an organosulfur compound which occurs naturally in the human body. There are numerous studies and testimonials demonstrating its effectiveness in knee cartilage regeneration.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s can be found naturally in fish oil and seeds, such as flax or pumpkin. They have been shown to reduce inflammation in the joints, which can potentially slow the cartilage degeneration. Incorporating a spoon full of fish oil into your morning routine, or adding ground flax seeds into your smoothie mix, are easy ways to increase your omega-3 intake.
Your liver naturally produces S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) from the amino acid, methionine. For those who suffer from knee pain, it may help improve cartilage damage. Those who take it may experience improved mobility and decreased pain and stiffness in the knee.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which has the ability to reduce inflammation in the joints. Studies also suggest that the consumption of turmeric as a dietary supplement has the ability to relieve pain in the knee joints. The body is able to digest curcumin best if it is combined with enzymes found in black pepper.
3. Stem Cell Therapy for Knee Cartilage Regeneration
Orthopedic stem cell therapy is rising in popularity as a potential solution to either delaying or circumventing the need for knee surgery. It is also used by people who want to remain active despite the wear and tear on their knees. It is a minimally invasive procedure in which stem cell-rich biologics are injected into the knee. Stem cell therapy can potentially decrease the inflammation in the knee, help produce new cartilage, and attract nutrients that slow the degeneration of cartilage.
Where are the Stem Cell Biologics Harvested from?
Orthopedic stem cell treatment is autologous, meaning the biologics come from the patient’s own body. The cells used may be harvested from bone marrow or fat tissue. Along with stem cells, both those sources also contain helpful growth factors. Additional growth factors can be derived from the patient’s blood by creating platelet-rich plasma (PRP).
Is Cartilage Regeneration Unlimited?
It is important to understand that there are limits to how much cartilage may be regenerated with stem cell therapy. We recommend carefully discussing your particular case and expectations with an experienced stem cell clinic.
Advantages to Stem Cell Therapy
Knee stem cell therapy offers several advantages as an alternative to knee replacement or surgery. These include:
- Minimally invasive – The outpatient procedure entails only minimal tissue damage and minimal discomfort.
- Quick recovery time – Patients typically begin to notice improvement within two to ten weeks and are usually able to return to non-impact activities within a week or two following the procedure. After about a month, patients are able to gradually increase their activities to include high impact sports.
- Natural – Stem cells come from your own body and therefore promote your natural healing mechanisms. There is no risk of rejection as these cells are your own.
- Cost-effective – Even though stem cell therapy for knee cartilage regeneration is not covered by insurance, the actual cost is much lower than that of a typical invasive surgery.
- Minimal medication – Stem cell therapy patients require very little, if any, pain medications following the procedure.
Are There Conditions Stem Cell Therapy Is Not Able to Treat?
Stem cell therapy is not a magical cure-all and does have limitations. For example, patients who suffer from a fully torn ligament such as a full ACL tear or severe asymmetric degeneration are typically not candidates for stem cell therapy. But, an ACL patient can use stem cell therapy to speed up recovery after surgical reconstruction has been performed.
Knee Cartilage Regeneration Success Stories
The tennis phenom, Rafael Nadal, has had two stem cell therapy procedures. Following these procedures, he returned to competitive tennis and has even won new major titles. Kobe Bryant and Cristiano Ronaldo are among other high profile athletes who opted for knee cartilage regeneration through stem cell therapy.
Professional athletes are not the only group that may benefit from stem cell therapy. Patient reviews about knee stem cell therapy talk about returning to golf, skiing, biking, and even about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro 4 months after undergoing stem cell therapy. It is no wonder that patients travel from all over the United States, Canada, and even Europe to receive treatment.
Find a Solution that Works for You
When it comes to knee pain originating from cartilage degeneration, there are many alternatives to traditional knee surgery. Exercises can help you regain strength and stability, which can alleviate stress and prevent new injuries. Supplements may provide the needed nutrients to your knee to slow and prevent cartilage degeneration and nourish existing tissue. Knee cartilage regeneration through stem cell therapy has the potential to improve the damaged cartilage in your knee, alleviate pain, and allow you to enjoy the activities you love. Contact us if you think you could be a candidate for knee stem cell therapy, so we can discuss your case individually.
“Branko Kral has a passion for mountain sports and communications. He’s able to combine the two as a remote professional based in mountain towns, running an SEO & analytics agency with a portfolio of healthcare clients. His first-hand experience with athletic knee health has been published on leading sites such as Breaking Muscle or thriveMD Clinic.”