[Editor Note: Robert Leaverton presents a positive experience with stem cell therapy for ailing knees. However, there are many caveats in pursuing this route. As Robert indicates in his conclusion, there are some indications that the therapy may have gotten ahead of the science. For a report on the state of stem cell therapy for joint repair, see this NYT article.]

I am a very active 82 year old skier, former runner. My knees were in pain to the point that I had to consider replacement if I wanted to continue skiing. I live and ski in Utah during the ski season. I ski at least six days a week,  seven if the POW is good.

Viable alternative? Research carefully, caveat emptor. Results may vary.

I went to a stem cell seminar in Spring 2018. I listened to the information and decided I should investigate further. I had the exam, some x-rays, and it was determined I was a good candidate for stem cell therapy. The previous ski season was a painful time. I was taking OTC pain meds to be able to ski all day. If my knees touched while I was sleeping, I would wake up. I knew that if I wanted to continue skiing, I would have to do something. I also knew that there was no guarantee SC would work, and I would pay $4,000 for each knee. I did not want to endure general anesthetic, pain, and re-hab. There is high success for total knee replacements, but no absolute guarantee.

I went to Wisconsin Stem Cell Therapy for injections in May 2018. The stem cell injections in each knee were painless. [Editor Note:  Stem cells are extracted from a patient’s own bone marrow and injected into worn or injured joints to promote healing.] I did therapy as suggested, and the results have been way more than I expected. I was being practical, and I would have been happy with 60 or 70 percent improvement. I rate my stem cell therapy as 100 percent success. I waited until I was done skiing for the season to make a final judgment of the SC therapy. After many years of painful skiing, I had a season with NO knee pain.

I have returned from more than two months in Utah. Had great snow and a lot of powder. Wind and visibility made for some difficult conditions (bumps & drifts) that were a real test for the SC therapy. SC therapy has been a huge success for me and will allow me to enjoy skiing for many more years.

Without any hesitation I would recommend stem cell therapy for anyone who suffers from joint pain and wants to continue to be active and enjoy life to the fullest.

Caution: When considering a clinic for stem cell therapy, be sure you investigate the clinic thoroughly. There are some “snake oil salesman” out there.

17 Comments

  1. I’m considering a stem cell treatment for persistent plantar fasciitis. What is your opinion about appropriateness?

    • Avatar Robert Leaverton says:

      Jim, I do not have any idea about treatment for PF. I suggest you contact local clinics or go to a seminar like I did to get information. Do some investigation on the web. Just be careful, the more this out the more the fraud artist’s get involved. I saw a web site that said they could treat ED with SC.

  2. Avatar Monica Rodis says:

    I am about to get stem cell and prolotherapy treatment for my knees. Any advice you can offer is appreciated.

    • Avatar Robert Leaverton says:

      Stem cell therapy can be permanent solution to knee and joint pain as well as other problems. Stem cells regenerate, I am not sure what prolotherapy is. SC is much more expensive but has the potential for permanent resolution of the problem. Not sure why the editor made the comment about SC harvested from the body. Umbilical SC for seniors is the only way to go.

  3. I tore my ACL tear in the 80’s which led to multiple meniscus shavings and removals via arthroscope. Made the mistake of never having a reconstruction and by last season (approx 60th consecutive year on skis) the arthritis was so bad I was confined to green and blue groomers. Pain was significant with every turn. Time to go in for a fix.

    I had a total knee replacement 7 weeks ago which featured a relatively new procedure in which the quadraceps muscle is not detached. I am amazed at the results: zero pain inside the joint, very tolerable level 2 – 4 pain from the incision but only when pushing my PT to work toward full range of motion. I could ski right now if I wanted, but of course will wait until next season to be conservative. Wish I had done the TKR sooner; the rehab is faster and easier than I had imagined, given the extent of carpentry work they do in there!

  4. Has anyone heard news regarding the use of stem cells on degenerative spinal discs?

    • Avatar Robert Leaverton says:

      I know of 2 people who have had SC therapy for back/spine problems. Both have had positive results. Both were at the same clinic I went to.

  5. Avatar Ron McFarland says:

    Curious what your X-rays showed to be the problem with your knees? Pain does not say why.

    Were you bone on bone?

    It’s great we have options, just feel a bit more background info helps understand why it worked for you and not others.

    Replacement is a good route and has a long term positive outlook. Just stay clear of the docs that frown on skiing.

    One upside for all treatments is it encourages staying fit and mobile.

    • Avatar Robert Leaverton says:

      X–Rays showed a good margins between the bones and I was considered a good candidate by the clinic. I was not bone on bone. I have no idea why this worked for me. I know some who have had good results, other not so good. I did not want the TKR, no guarantee and a lot of pain and rehab.

      Some clinics use SC harvested from your body. 80 plus SC are not going to do much good, whereas umbilical core SC are brand new. My clinic would not use harvested SC for me.

      Most important is to do a thorough investigation of the clinic and be sure your are getting umbilical cord SC and you can verify the source. No sure why the editor mentioned
      “harvested” SC.

      I would do this again in a heartbeat.

      If it does not work you can always go the TKR.

  6. Avatar Carol Dean Silverman says:

    What was the original damage to your knee? My 63 years of skiing have resulted in ACL, MCL, and meniscus damage, as well as arthritis & bone-on-bone. I’ve been skiing with DonJoy braces since 1957-8. I’m chicken to do TKR, as friends have had serious problems with it. I opted for the $3,700 (cash) Stem Cell route. It was a complete waste of time & money. The orthopedist was from a well-respected New York City hospital and claimed an 80% success rate. When it failed, he tried to sell me an additional $800 (cash) PRP.

    • Avatar Robert Leaverton says:

      Sorry that the SC did not work for U. My clinic did not offer results and said up front there is no guarantee. They did rate the possible success 0-4 and let me decide what to do. Did you have umbilical SC? Like I said in my article, there are a lot of “snake oil” salesmen out there.

  7. Thanks for this, Robert. I also ski ‘basin and PowMow. Just turned 70, skiing since age 5, and I’ve recently modified my technique to use more ankle for shock absorbing and save the knees. Softer boots, softer snow, staying forward, moving the bindings back so as not to need to sit back in powder. It all helps, but by spring, especially in those dry hard seasons like ’16 and ’18, they can get pretty sore. I skied with a guy named Joe at PowMow this March who had the stem cell shots, said they were good only until mid season, then he ended up doing the TKR on both and is happy now. Will be interested in meeting you next winter to see how you’re doing. I hope I last as long as you, in life, and on skis…congratulations!

    • Avatar Robert Leaverton says:

      Roger, look forward to meeting U. I am in the Hidden Lake lodge about 8:30. Hang out in the corner near the fireplace. Can’t miss the Fu Man Chu. No sure why Joe’s SC did not work? IF he did not use umbilical SC this might be the reason. SC do not work for everyone, but is better than TKR if it does work.

      Think Snow!!

  8. Avatar Richard Niebrzydowski says:

    I have had two stem cell treatments on my right knee over the past four years. In October I am going to have the knee replacement procedure. I tried several other options but nothing worked. So keep your expectations low if you opt for stem cell treatment.

  9. As a 73 year old skier, I was very curious about your experience. And I enjoyed your article very much.

    QUESTION: WHAT I WOULD DEARLY LIKE TO KNOW (AND SORRY IF THIS HAS BEEN COVERED BEFORE)—-HAVE ANY READERS OUT THERE IN SKI-LAND EVER SKIED WITH A TORN MENISCUS! DOES THE STIFF BOOT HELP ANY, IF THE INJURY WAS FROM A TOO-QUICK TWIST WITH ONE FOOT STANDING IN PLACE?

    I know the answer already, I think. Do NOT ski with a torn (even healing) Meniscus! But when the snows start to fly, I’ll be looking out my window from Purgatory! LOL!

    Thanks and hello to all!

  10. Thank you for this wonderful article on Stem Cell treatment. Would it be OK to reprint this article in the Mountain High Snowsport Club newsletter for the benefit of all our ski club members? Of course, we would give full credit to both you and Seniors Skiing.

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