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Intradiscal Stem Cell Injections for Low Back Pain

Posted at 11:49 AM on Mar 25, 2019

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Do you suffer from low back pain?

You're not alone. Approximately 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain to some degree during their lifetimes. Low back pain is ranked as the third most burdensome condition in the United States and the leading cause of work-related disability.

Lower back pain can also be extremely difficult to treat. There are many conditions that cause lower back pain and no individual test that can tell you which one you have. Your doctor can narrow it down, but many back pain conditions are fairly vaguely defined.

Take degenerative disc disease, for example. Degenerative disc disease, more commonly known as DDD, is an age-related condition that affects the intervertebral discs. These structures are supposed to absorb shock and protect the vertebrae but become weaker and can bulge, tear, and leak as we age.

Treating Lower Back Pain

Treating conditions like degenerative disc disease is a lot like trying to treat skin wrinkles or gray hair. You can address the outward signs – in this case, the pain – but the body is determined to keep on aging.

Still, pain relief is an important component of treatment. Options typically include:

Medication

  • Pain relievers, either in pill form or topical
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Low-dose antidepressants (can relieve certain forms of back pain)
  • Cortisone injections

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists treat back pain in a number of ways, from ultrasound treatment and electrical stimulation to muscle release. They also give you exercises that you can do to strengthen your core and back muscles so that you can support your spine more effectively, reducing pain from use.

Alternative Therapies

Many people choose to supplement their treatment regimens with alternative therapies like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and yoga.

Surgery

If more conservative methods fail and you find your back pain comes from a structural issue, such as a herniated disc, your doctor may recommend surgery. This often involves a minimally invasive discectomy procedure, which removes the part of the disc that is pressing against the nerve and causing pain.

This kind of surgery has a high success rate – generally 80 percent or higher – yet many patients prefer to pursue alternatives. In addition to the inherent risks that accompany all surgeries, discectomy procedures carry the risk of recurrence months to years later.

An Innovative New Alternative – Intradiscal Stem Cell Injections

It seems like stem cells are everywhere nowadays in the medical field. But is it possible to use stem cells for back pain treatment?

Research and patient experiences say yes.

What can stem cells do for back pain?

There is a specialized treatment known as intradiscal mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) transplantation, or intradiscal stem cell injections, that scientists have identified as safe and effective in treating the disc degeneration that leads to lower back pain.

The name is long but the concept is simple. A doctor harvests stem cells from your body and injects them into your damaged disc. (“Intra” means “in,” and “discal” means “disc!”)

How does it work?

Stem cell treatment for back pain is a regenerative therapy, meaning that it actually helps the degenerated intervertebral discs to repair themselves. The MSCs used in stem cell treatment have the capacity to:

  1. Develop into the kind of cell needed to repair the disc
  2. Self-renew once injected, so they keep working to heal
  3. Reduce pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory on damaged tissue.

Stem cell treatment is the first therapy for back pain that not only relieves pain but also helps the damaged tissue to rebuild itself.

What happens during the procedure?

Most of the time, stem cell treatment for back pain starts with the harvesting of stem cells from the patient's bone marrow. A machine called a centrifuge processes the harvested cells to create a compound known as Bone-Marrow Aspirate Concentrate, or BMAc, which contains the needed stem cells as well as growth factors and growth factor-rich platelets to help rebuild damaged tissue.

Once the stem cell concentration is ready, an experienced physician uses a syringe to inject it into the degenerated disc. This is an extremely delicate procedure and should only be performed by an experienced and specially trained physician. Even then, a real-time X-ray technology known as fluoroscopy is necessary to place the injection correctly.

Does it help?

Even though stem cell therapy has only been in widespread use for a few years, a number of studies have already shown that it has promise. In 2017, Dr. Wenchun Qu of the Mayo Clinic presented a review of six studies that showed pain relief and improved function in patients who underwent this kind of therapy. In another study, five out of 12 patients who received only stem cell therapies said that their pain was still reduced two years after treatment. Even now, more studies are ongoing that will help us understand how patients respond.

Will it work for me?

There's no way to tell how well stem cell treatment will relieve any individual patient's pain. Every patient's lower back pain is different. Even the best treatment won't work if the patient engages in the same activities that contributed to the degeneration in the first place.

Before you undergo stem cell therapy for back pain, talk to your doctor to understand everything possible about your pain. If there are certain activities that have contributed to your disc degeneration, you'll need to be ready to limit or cut them out before you start stem cell therapy.

The Takeaways

Low back pain treatment is a matter of matching the right treatment to the right person. Stem cells, because they come from the patient's own body, can be an ideal match in those with degenerative disc disease and other structurally rooted pain conditions. To find out if stem cell therapy might be an option for you, consult your doctor or book an appointment at Twin Cities Pain and Regenerative Medicine today.