Can stem cells repair years of cortisone and anti-inflammatory damage in your joints?

How stem cells heal degenerative joint disease after years of cortisone and painkillers

Ross Hauser, MD

There are many reasons why you have osteoarthritis. At the top of your list is perhaps years of untreated joint instability from:

The main factor, however, is that your joints and spine are breaking down slowly, steadily and at a rate faster than your body can fix it. This article will give you a detailed explanation as to why we believe we offer a unique stem cell therapy/Prolotherapy healing program for people with degenerative joint disease, even after years of cortisone and anti-inflammatory damage.

When treating inflammation leads to surgery

The body’s healing response is inflammation. Inflammation fixes injuries. Inflammation will turn on and continue staying on until the joint injury is healed.

But what if the joint does not heal because the degenerative injury has become too severe for the body to heal on its own?

There are two ways to stop this damaging inflammation and save your joint

In our office, the first way is to fix the joint or spine by rebuilding and repairing damaged tissue with regenerative injections. We can accomplish this with stem cell therapy and Prolotherapy. These treatments will be discussed below.

Is the above scenario, the repair of the joint has shut down the inflammation. This is not so in the second scenario.

The second way to shut down the inflammation does not involve healing or repair

Your amazing cartilage making chondrocyte cell. Can it reverse years of your cortisone, anti-inflammatory and painkiller damage?

chondrocyte is a cell that makes cartilage.

If you can imagine the example of the brick wall above being the cartilage that covers the ends of your bones or being a meniscus in your knee or hip labrum or shoulder labrum. In degenerative joint disease, this wall starts developing holes or lesions. To have bone-on-bone part of this brick wall has to wear through.

Now imagine your body trying to repair this damage. How does it do it? Here comes the amazing chondrocyte and repair

Now imagine this damage is too far gone and the chondrocytes cannot complete a repair 

The damage of anti-inflammatories, cortisone, painkillers and no treatment – the answer to why there are so many joint replacements.

When you stop repairing a damaged brick wall, it will collapse. If this were your knee or hip, you are now bone-on-bone and at times your knee or hip will feel like it is collapsing under your weight.

Can you prevent joint collapse with stem cells?

Let’s explore what degenerative treatments are doing to your joints and the ability of stem cell therapy to heal that damage.

You are taking NSAIDs. What is the damage?

In 2010, this is what I wrote in my paper in the Journal of Prolotherapy entitled: The Acceleration of Articular Cartilage Degeneration in Osteoarthritis by Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs:

It is clear from the scientific literature that NSAIDs have a significant negative effect on cartilage repair and formation which causes an acceleration of the deterioration of articular cartilage in osteoarthritic joints.

This was later supported in the medical research which not only showed how NSAIDs destroyed joints, but could negatively impact stem cell therapy’s ability to fix that damage.

Clearly, NSAIDs inhibit and suppress the growth of bone and collagen, the stuff of ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. If a patient has a long history of NSAIDs this should be addressed prior to stem cell therapy and a treatment plan discussed.

You received corticosteroids. What is the damage?

This single piece of research published by French doctors in the journal Clinics in orthopedic surgery should be enough to convince anyone that cortisone makes healing with stem cells difficult. Patients seeing doctors who insist on cortisone first, should research this treatment decision.

If you consider the Mayo Clinic a reliable source of information then note that recent research from the Mayo Clinic suggests cortisone may hinder the native stem cells in cartilage. Cortisone threatens their innate regenerative capacity in exchange for temporary pain relief.(7). We do not need to continue the assault on the detrimental effects of cortisone on healing in this article. One of our most visited articles provides much more research, read it here: Alternatives to Cortisone.

Stem cells and Prolotherapy: The bricks and mortar of healing

Many emails we get begin with, “can you regrow cartilage?” The answer for many people is yes. Nothing is medicine is 100%, to suggest otherwise is not accurate.

Let’s talk again about the chondrocytes cell. Above we discussed how the chondrocyte rebuilds cartilage by becoming a “brick” and secreting its own mortar to hold itself in place.

So this time let’s imagine that your own stem cells have been injected into your joint and the damaged brick wall is reacting to the stem cell injections.

So imagine:

 “The role of stem cells in cartilage regeneration is certain.” So why doesn’t it work all the time?

So why doesn’t the brick wall repair itself all the time? In 2017, doctors in China writing in the medical journal Stem cells international wrote that “Although the role of stem cells in cartilage regeneration is certain, the mechanism underlying this process in cartilage repair is not yet clear. The full range of limitations and possibilities, with respect to clinical application of various stem cells, remains to be established, but the advantages of stem cells seem obvious.”(8)

What does all this mean? 

Prolotherapy helps stem cells work

We often get emails from people with stories of failed stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy should be a comprehensive injection treatment plan, not a magic single injection fix.

Is this stem cell therapy?

Prolotherapy is another injection technique we utilize in support of stem cell therapy. Prolotherapy injections a simple sugar into the joint. The sugar acts as an irritant to jump-start the body’s inflammatory healing system. Sounds simple, but let’s look at the complex job Prolotherapy does in helping stem cells work better.

Prolotherapy helps stem cells repair ligaments and tendon damage – the culprits of loose, unstable joints.

The medical literature is filled with dozens of research papers on the benefits of Prolotherapy treatments and its ability to stop the degenerative damage in joints by repairing damaged and weak ligaments and tendons.

Osteoarthritis develops as a result of joint instability from a ligament injury. Single stem cell injections do not address the ligament damage, they only look to patch a hole is the cartilage. Stem cell therapy will not work long-term if the ligament damage that caused the hole in the cartilage is also not addressed. This is addressed in the illustration below.

Single stem cell injections do not address joint instability, they only look to patch a hole is the cartilage. Stem cell therapy will not work long-term if the joint instability that caused the hole in the cartilage is also not addressed.

Prolotherapy removes damaged tissue and debris from the joint

Let’s go back to our collapsed brick wall example. At the base of the wall in the picture above are piles of damaged bricks. If you were to bring in a masonry crew to fix that brick wall, the first things they would do is clean up the damaged bricks so they had a safe and clean work environment. Stem cells are no different. They want a clean and safe environment to work in too.

When Prolotherapy is injected into the joint, it stimulates the production of leukocytes (an immune cell that absorbs and gets rid of diseased tissue) and macrophages. The term macrophage is from the Greek meaning, “Big Eaters.” They eat debris and damaged tissues in the joint.

Prolotherapy feeds stem cells the food they like and helps make more stem cells

One important published paper on stem cell research from Purdue University confirmed the notion that dextrose, especially hypertonic (extra) dextrose is a significant factor in the ability of mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow to proliferate. What is in a Prolotherapy injection? Hypertonic dextrose (9)

The mesenchymal stem cell consumption of glucose increased proportionally with the glucose concentration in the medium. (The more food the stem cells were given, the more they ate). The primary results note that the higher glucose and serum concentrations appear to produce higher stem cell populations over time.

Prolotherapy brings oxygen to the joint. Stem cells like that because it provides them with energy and a clean, safe work environment.

In a 2017 study, Dr. Ming Pei of West Virginia University publishing in the medical journal Biomaterials suggests that while adult stem cells are a promising cell source for cartilage regeneration, they have a hard time in a harsh joint environment when hypoxia (the lack of oxygen) and inflammation have created a toxic soup for the stem cells to work in. (10) As noted above stem cells like a clean, safe work environment. Chronic inflammation slowly and steadily brings about a low oxygen environment in joints because the body feels that diseased tissue will die in a low oxygen environment. Oxygen deprivation is designed to be a short-term drastic measure to healing a wound. Byt chronic inflammation means a slow strangulation of the joint

Sometimes we forget the cells of the body obtain their energy via aerobic metabolism.  The primary substrates or substances that are needed for aerobic metabolism are oxygen and glucose. The body breathes to get oxygen and we eat to break down the food into sugar. Even if a person just eats protein, ultimately the body finds a way to break down the protein into individual amino acids and eventually into glucose. Without glucose, the cells and the body cannot live.

The summary and considering a consultation

When I teach other doctors Prolotherapy or stem cell techniques, all the doctors want to talk about in what is in the injection. They don’t talk about the way the treatment is given. I tell these doctors that they would be shocked at how many people I see in our office who had one injection or two injections of stem cells at a cost of $10,000 or $15,000 and have even flown to facilities outside the United States to get the “more advanced treatment.” These people are in our office because they are reporting only a 10% improvement.

If you have had joint pain for 10 years, 10 years of cortisone, NSAIDs, painkillers, degenerative joint disease, tells us that one shot will not repair all that damage. What the video. It will show you and explain the treatments we offer.


If you have questions about how stem cells heal degenerative joint disease after years of cortisone and painkillers, get help and information form our Caring Medical staff

1. Hauser RA. The Acceleration of Articular Cartilage Degeneration in Osteoarthritis by Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs: Journal of Prolotherapy. 2010;(2)1:305-322. [Google Scholar]

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9 Deorosan B, Nauman EA. The Role of Glucose, Serum, and Three-Dimensional Cell Culture on the Metabolism of Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Stem Cell International. 2011;  Article ID 429187, 12 pages. Doi:10.4061/2011/429187 . [Google Scholar]

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