Low back pain is a common and debilitating condition from which many patients receive little relief. In the United States, low back pain results in medical expenses and lost wages in excess of $200 billion each year. A strong case for using stem-cell therapies to successfully treat back pain associated with certain types of chronic disc problems appears in a review article published in the 2016 issue of Stem Cells International.

The discs of the spine have a limited ability to heal once an injury occurs. Poor blood supply results in a disruption of the normal architecture of the disc and can lead to toxic inflammation—which in turn can lead to increased pain and further degeneration of the disc. Traditionally, when conservative treatment such as medications and physical therapy fail to eliminate or decrease the pain, many patients undergo a spinal fusion in an attempt to obtain pain relief.

Spinal fusions are a common surgical option for treating disc-related pain, and more than 450,000 such surgeries are performed each year. Fusions are designed to provide pain relief by reducing motion of the painful segments. An orthopedic surgeon cuts out parts of the spine and fuses the segments by adding extra bone and/or hardware. Unfortunately, these surgeries are not always successful. Because spinal fusions alter the body’s natural biomechanics, they frequently are associated with major complications, continued pain, and progressive degeneration of the spine above and below the fusion.

When a disc is injured, its chemical environment is negatively affected, which interferes with the body’s natural ability to heal. Spinal fusion surgery has no effect on the chemical environment of the injured area, and therefore such surgeries are unable to promote or assist with healing or regeneration of the damaged disc.

Current evidence suggests that stem-cell therapy has the potential to create a paradigm shift in the treatment of disc-related pain. Stem-cell therapy can maintain normal spinal biomechanics, provide necessary cellular and nutrient support for disc regeneration, change the disc environment to a healing (anabolic) environment, and reduce disc-related pain. Stem-cell therapy also significantly lowers the risk of complications while requiring less downtime than spinal-fusion surgery.

 

Josh Goodwin, M.D., a physician at Regenexx Des Moines in Des Moines, is one of four authors of “Multipotent Mesenchymal Stem Cell Treatment for Discogenic Low Back Pain and Disc Degeneration,” published in the 2016 issue of Stem Cells International.

Like all medical procedures, Regenexx procedures have a success and failure rate.
Not all patients will experience the same results.

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