A Patient’s Perspective for Bone Marrow Aspiration

What do you mean you want to harvest my stem cells?

Your quest to choose a treatment for a painful joint or tissue is about as easy as finding something to wear on a first date. The options aren’t endless, but there are pros and cons to each. Pharmaceutical intervention can be costly, addictive, and sometimes damaging to your already damaged tissue. Surgery may also be on the table, but it’s a tough decision due to recovery time and the possibility that it may or may not help in the end.

After watching the 10 o’clock news segment on new medical advances, a friend asks, “Have you tried stem cells?” What? I didn’t know that was legal! Yes, you can use your own adult stem cells to help mitigate pain and induce healing in a natural way that doesn’t involve major surgery or pharmaceutical intervention. Being the organic juice, bone broth loving person you are, you decide this has to be the right choice. Why wouldn’t someone want to use their own cells to try and heal themselves? You do your research and schedule a consultation with a regenerative medicine practicing physician. The physician consultation is a success- it turns out that you are a candidate for the therapy! Then the dreaded news comes – how to “harvest” the adult stem cells from your bone marrow. Stop. Nope. Sounds unpleasant to say the least – don’t I have to be asleep for that?!

This response is typical of patients that I have seen in my time as a regenerative medicine nurse. I am here to tell you to have no fear, you can do this! Depending on the type of injection you are receiving, the entire process (aspiration and injection) takes 1-1.5 hours.

On the day of your procedure, after briefly reviewing the plan with the physician and nurse, you will be instructed to change into a comfortable gown and shorts. You will lie on your stomach for the entirety of the bone marrow aspiration.  The physician will prepare your lower back with antiseptic solution which will create a sterile site for the physician to aspirate from. Your bone marrow will be taken via a needle from your lower back/pelvis area. This area is named the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS).

In your case, you are lucky because you don’t even need to worry about this needle! To prepare you for the aspiration, the physician will numb the PSIS and surrounding tissue with a plentiful amount of numbing agent. “This was probably the most painful part of the procedure: the numbing medicine injection. It was similar to the burning sensation you get at the dentist or if you had any other type of injection,” stated Matt Murphy, a two-time recipient of his own stem cells. After the numbing agent has become effective, your doctor will start the procedure. This process takes about 3-7 minutes, depending on the amount of stem cells you need! He will first position the needle at the PSIS for bone marrow retrieval.

Most patients don’t feel this at all on account of the numbing agent. The next portion involves the actual aspiration of the bone marrow (which contains your adult stem cells).  The physician will take a small amount of bone marrow into a small syringe with a hard, fast pull.  This part of the procedure can give the patient some discomfort.  Matt says, “The sensation is hard to describe- it is not painful, but rather, uncomfortable. It is a sensation that you can feel shoot down through your leg. It was like I felt a sucking sensation in my femur.”

This response is very typical. Patients also describe the sensation as having a “charlie horse cramp” in their butt cheek or hamstring. These repeated fast, short pulls are what causes the cramping sensation.  This is a necessary sensation though. According to a study by Dr. Philippe Hernigou, small volume/small syringe pulls result in a greater number of adult stem cells present in the bone marrow aspirated.

The number of pulls depends on which area(s) you are injecting.  After the aspiration is completed, the physician removes the needle and places a waterproof bandage over the very small wound.  That’s it!  The hardest part is over! As for how it feels after – Matt says, “I didn’t feel anything there for the rest of the day. After this, the site was a little sore for a couple of days, but really I forgot about it most of the time.”

I have seen countless patients come in for this procedure anxious about the aspiration.  Time and time again they leave saying, “Well, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!” With that said, if needles still aren’t your thing, discuss options for sedation with your physician. Be sure to discuss the pros, cons, and risk with your physician, as well as ensure you’re a good candidate for a bone marrow stem cell injection. The possibility to help reduce pain and induce healing with your own cells is an incredible advance in medicine. I am fortunate to have seen it succeed for so many patients.

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