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YOUR HEALTH: Your body may already have the answer to knee pain

Your own fat may hold the key to relieving your pain

DENVER — It impacts a lot of us.

One in four people are living with knee pain. 

"I think it was just a matter of wear and tear of over the years," said Al Perez who has had knee pain for years.

"Walking became difficult because I get some swelling and pain."

Perez had his right knee replaced eight years ago and he didn't want a repeat procedure on his left.

"I have some arthritis in that knee, osteoarthritis, and I wanted to avoid at all costs another knee replacement."

Perez found orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jason Dragoo at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic at UCHealth in Denver who is part of a team that made stem-cell history.

"It set off this revolution worldwide of getting STEM cells from fat," said Dr. Dragoo

And now, he's using those stem cells to ease his patients knee pain.

"Mother nature put in this piece of fat that's in our knee, it's called the fat pad," said Dr. Dragoo.

"And we looked at the fat pad and it contains a very high number of STEM cells."

The procedure is quick.

From harvesting the cells to implant, the procedure takes about 20 minutes.

"We process them in the operating room and then give them back to patients during the same surgical procedures."

Dr. Dragoo said the best candidate is someone with moderate to middle-stage arthritis. 

Initial studies show that the treatment reduces pain and inflammation. 

Now, they are looking to see if the cartilage regrows. 

It worked for Al.

He's four years post-surgery and his pain is gone.

"Within three, four days I was walking with barely a limp," said Perez. "I was good. I can walk 18 holes." 

Three places in the United States perform this procedure:

Studies have shown that stem cells release factors that reside on opioid receptors. Those are one of the pain-relieving receptors that we have in our body and that is the reason that stem cell therapy is thought to decrease pain.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.