The use of adult stem cells for back pain has been rapidly gaining acceptance as an alternative treatment for degenerative disc disease. In this article, I discuss the common surgical options that have been the primary treatment for debilitating low back pain due to degenerative disc disease. I then address the potential of regenerative medicine and its minimally-invasive approach to treating this all too common problem.
ThriveMD’s stem cell patients that have been treated for low back pain have successfully been able to return to active lifestyles, and more importantly, they have experienced greatly diminished pain and improved function.
Share this post:
Conventional Treatments for Low Back Pain Due to Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc cartilage is a primary cause of debilitating low back pain. Nearly 75% of adults will suffer from low back pain severe enough to keep them out of work at some point in their life. Bed rest, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, analgesics, bracing, epidural steroids and other conservative modalities are the first line treatments for resolving back pain. When these measures are unsuccessful, treatment often progresses quickly to a surgical solution.
Typically, this involves fusion surgery or lumbar disc replacement. Both of these surgeries are very invasive procedures which are fraught with potential morbidity, long painful recovery, and many missed work days. However, surgical treatments have limited efficacy and do not guarantee predictable and reliable outcomes. In addition, fusion surgery increases the odds of adjacent disc levels degenerating at a faster pace and potentially leading to additional surgeries down the road.
Stem Cells for Low Back Pain as a Surgical Alternative
A patient’s own adult stem cells may provide a means of targeting the degenerative process in order to alter the course of internal disc disruption and possibly lead to disc repair, recovery of function and pain relief.Stem cell therapy offers a minimally invasive answer to avoiding back surgery and potentially resolving the disability associated with degenerative disc disease. The lumbar disc is comprised of a gelatinous center called the nucleus pulposus and a fibrous outer layer, the disc annulus. The nucleus pulposus is a less structured gelatinous matrix rich in proteoglycans and collagen.
The high level of hydration in the nucleus helps to maintain disc height and contributes to the discs load bearing ability. Small chondrocyte cells scattered through the nucleus are responsible for synthesizing the inner matrix. The degenerative process leads to reductions in the proteoglycan core and associated dehydration, which can lead to cracking and fissuring of the annulus.
This progressive destruction leads to pain and disability. Regenerative therapeutic approaches, using a patient’s own adult stem cells, may provide a means of targeting the degenerative process in the disc and alter the course of internal disc disruption. As a result, it can possibly lead to disc repair, recovery of function and pain relief.
The Stem Cell Procedure
Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells with high proliferation capability. These adult cells can be harvested from a number of autologous (the patient’s own) tissues. The richest sources of adult cells are found in adipose or fatty tissue, and bone marrow. Both of these sources of cells can be harvested using minimally invasive techniques where neither requires a general anesthetic or an overnight hospital stay. Once harvested the stem cells and growth factors contained in the tissues can be separated and concentrated for back injection using a multi-step centrifugation process. The disc can only accommodate a very small volume and requires that a large number of cells be concentrated into a very small volume for injection. Accessing the lumbar disc is done with a small needle placed through the skin and directed into the diseased disc.
This technique requires a very skilled injectionist capable of placing the needle safely into the disc under live x-ray guidance avoiding the sensitive nerve and vascular structures surrounding the spine. Adult stem cell therapy is showing promise in becoming a powerful tool in the treatment of degenerative disc disease, avoiding invasive surgery, reducing pain and recovering spinal architecture and function.