Low back pain is a common, debilitating condition. According to studies, back pain greatly impacts the workforce through lost wages and medical expenses. The single most common pain generator is the intervertebral disc, which are fibrous cushions that lie in between each vertebra. A new, innovative treatment for discogenic (disc-causing) pain is stem cell therapy.
What are discs?
A disc is composed of the gel-like center (nucleus pulposus) and tough outer layers (annulus fibrosis). The nucleus is 80% water, which erodes and leaves the disc over time. Loss of water content to the nucleus can lead to loss of spine flexibility and shock absorption. The annulus layers can develop tears and cracks over time, which weakens the spinal structure. Any change in the disc structure, integrity, or flexibility can cause discogenic back pain.
How common is discogenic pain?
According to a recent research study, around 37% of chronic low back pain is related to internal disc disruption. Researchers evaluated discograms, and found that 74% of people with low back pain had an abnormal discogram (test to assess for disc problems).
How do stem cell injections help discogenic pain?
Once injected, mesenchymal stem cells can differentiate into other types of cells, which aid in the repair of the disc structures. Stem cells contain many growth factors and chemicals that aid in the repair of disc tissue. Because the tears, cracks, and layers of the disc are repaired, there is less disc pain.
Does stem cell therapy work?
According to recent clinical studies, disc integrity is improved after stem cell injection therapy. In vitro studies that showed bidirectional synergy, increased growth factor production, and disc tissue regeneration. In two separate studies, researchers found that stem cells had the ability to produce new nuclear matrix components, which improve disc function. Another study showed an 81-91% disc height restoration and MRI improvement rate.
How are the stem cells obtained?
Most stem cells for injection are obtained from the iliac crest bone marrow, which is removed at the hip bone. The procedure is simple. The skin is cleaned, and the tissues are numbed using an anesthetic. A procedure needle is inserted into the bone using fluoroscopy (real-time x-ray). Gentle aspiration is used to withdraw bone marrow from the bone. The solution is then processed in the laboratory to concentrate and purify the stem cells.
How are stem cells injected into the damaged, diseased, or injured disc?
The procedure is performed using light sedation, so the patient is comfortable. The skin of the back is cleaned with an antiseptic solution, and the tissues are numbed with lidocaine. A procedure needle is guided into the disc using fluoroscopy, and the stem cell solution is injected. The needle is then removed, and a dry bandage is applied. The entire procedure takes less than one hour to perform.