Yorba Linda, Spine and Joint Therapy

Do Stem Cell Injections Work for Back Pain?

Patients suffering from long-term back pain are in a difficult situation. Their pain can make daily tasks insurmountable obstacles and exercise impossible. When first-line treatments like physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and muscle relaxants don’t work, they may be put on more powerful and potentially addictive painkillers. Or they may be given steroid or hyaluronic acid injections, epidural injections, or radiofrequency treatments to reduce inflammation and control pain. Unfortunately, these methods tend to provide only limited relief, and don’t address the underlying cause of the pain. When the situation is bad enough, surgery may be recommended.

Of course, nobody wants to undergo spinal surgery for back pain except as a last resort. Recently, some health care providers have started experimenting with stem cell therapy to try to heal spinal disks that have been damaged or that have degenerated. As a minimally invasive procedure, this option may seem attractive to patients who have exhausted more conservative treatments and are desperate to avoid surgery. Before moving ahead, they should understand what the procedure entails, what research says so far about its efficacy, and potential risks.

Stem Cell Treatment for Back Pain

So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved stem cell treatments for certain cancers and disorders of the blood and immune system. While some practitioners may use bone marrow stem cells for other purposes such as to treat back pain, these are neither approved nor regulated by the FDA. This can increase the risk of adverse effects if treatment is administered by an untrained or unscrupulous provider. Possible unintended outcomes in these cases include adverse reactions at the injection site, movement of the cells away from where they are placed, cells changing into different cell types than intended or multiplying, failure of the stem cells to work as expected, or the growth of tumors.

The theory behind the treatment is that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are harvested from bone marrow taken from a patient’s pelvis, can rapidly divide and help repair damaged tissue, as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect. Unlike a painkilling or anti-inflammatory drug, they are intended to heal injuries and rebuild the disk rather than masking symptoms.

First, bone marrow is extracted from the iliac crest, the top part of the largest bone in the pelvis, with a needle. The bone marrow is aspirated with a special syringe and sent to a laboratory, where a centrifuge is used to create a concentrate of stem cells, growth factors, and growth factor–rich platelets. This concentrate is then transplanted back into the patient’s body either through a central line or injected directly at the site. This delicate procedure requires a highly skilled and trained physician. Patients can expect to feel mild pain at the extraction site and soreness and stiffness in the affected area; it can take up to a year after the first procedure for the area to heal.

While the use of a patient’s own stem cells minimizes the risk of an adverse immune reaction, patients have experienced nausea, vomiting, infections at the area of injection, and endocrine dysfunction during clinical trials of the treatment. Unfortunately, only limited information is available on the efficacy of such treatment. A 2022 review of available data showed that less than half of the patients treated experienced pain relief 6 months after the procedure, and less than one-third reported any functional improvement. While other studies have taken a more optimistic view of the potential of the approach, it remains to be seen if future clinical trials will produce more promising results.

A Safe Alternative for Back Pain Therapy

At Divine Spine, we understand the frustration and fear that can set in when patients have exhausted traditional conservative remedies for back pain. We offer a safe, noninvasive alternative to risky, experimental treatments. Our philosophy is based on identifying and addressing the root cause of back pain, aligning the spine to naturally restore range of motion and relieve discomfort for the long run. We accomplish this with an advanced computerized adjustment system that gently corrects alignment with precise adjustments targeted exactly where they’re needed. No uncomfortable popping, cracking, or twisting the spine.

If you’ve been searching for back pain relief with no good answers, call Divine Spine. Your consultation will start with a thorough exam, including on-site X-rays, to discover the cause of your pain and create an individualized treatment plan to address it. To schedule your appointment at either our Yorba Linda or Orange office, contact us here today.

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