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Stem Cell Injections Ease Joint Pain Without Surgery

At the height of his competitive running career, Phil Gayter took on grueling workouts that would make even the most active people cringe. From winning national titles in Britain to being ranked second in Chicago’s racing circuit, Gayter enjoyed a well-earned reputation until his running began to look more like limping.


“I guess it was to be expected for the amount of intense activity I was doing,” noted the baby boomer marketing executive from Lake Bluff.

Pain Points
Gayter described the pain from decades of pounding his joints—especially his knees and hips—as “unbearable.” He needed physicians who understood and appreciated his high level of performance. His search led him to NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute’s renowned sports medicine specialists and an exciting journey into regenerative medicine.

“Although regenerative medicine and stem cell research is a young field, we recognize that the science, coupled with the success we’ve seen with our patients from professional to recreational athletes is very promising,” said Jason Koh, MD, MBA, Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Orthopaedic Institute Director. “We’re committed to bringing these leading-edge breakthroughs to our patients with acute and chronic orthopaedic conditions.”

For Gayter’s terribly arthritic left knee, surgery turned out to be the optimal solution. He successfully underwent a knee replacement at NorthShore and regained full use of that critical joint. But for Gayter’s hip pain, he got a novel treatment recommendation from Orthopaedic Surgeon Patrick Birmingham, MD. Dr. Birmingham is a nationally recognized sports medicine specialist and team physician for the Chicago Bears.

Nonsurgical Intervention
In addition to arthritis, an MRI showed a degenerative tear in the hip’s labrum, the cartilage lining the socket. An extensive evaluation, which included Gayter keeping a pain log after having his hip numbed, revealed that the tear was causing his hip pain. Since the labrum was torn beyond repair and the arthritis was not severe enough to warrant hip replacement surgery, Dr. Birmingham offered Gayter a powerful and promising new treatment that would leverage his own body’s ability to heal itself—stem cell injection therapy.

“This presented a nonsurgical option that potentially has much longer lasting effects in terms of symptom relief and can get the patient back to daily living,” said Dr. Birmingham, who holds an academic title at the Pritzker School of Medicine.

Also known as bone marrow concentrate therapy, the regenerative medicine procedure involves withdrawing bone marrow from the patient’s back pelvis bone. It is done in an office setting with no general anesthesia and minimal discomfort. The bone marrow is then separated into a concentrate and purified into stem cells. Ultrasound or X-ray is used to guide the injection for targeted placement of the cells. It usually involves one visit.

“In cases like this, the use of stem cells is a good alternative to surgery,” said Sports Medicine Physician Trevor Bullock, MD, who is passionate about regenerative medicine, having done hundreds of stem cell injections with great success. “In some cases, we’re able to use the cells as an adjunct to a surgical procedure to further improve outcomes."

Today, Gayter is pain-free and has returned to working out, some running and hiking.  “I’ve had no issues at all. I don’t even think about my hip anymore,” Gayter said. “In the great scheme of things, it was worth the price.”