In recent years, stem cell therapy has come into wider use as a viable treatment option for healing injuries and regenerating damaged tissues. Stem cells have been used to treat arthritic joints, knee and joint injuries, chronic wounds and similar injuries — but recently this regenerative injection therapy has also shown promise in promoting healing for back injuries and injuries to the spine. Let’s explore this exciting treatment and its potential for use in back patients.
Stem cells are “non-specific” cells in the body that have the ability to transform (“differentiate”) into specific cells performing various functions. When we form as embryos in the womb, stem cells differentiate to form virtually every body part we have. While embryonic stem cell research has generated controversy over the years as human embryos are destroyed in the process, the fact is we all have stem cells existing in our bodies, and these stem cells serve a regenerative purpose in our bodies throughout our lives. It is these “adult” stem cells that doctors are using in stem cell therapy procedures.
Our bodies all contain fatty tissue called adipose, located primarily in the abdominal region, which contains up to 500 times more stem cells than are found even in bone marrow. With stem cell therapy, the doctor extracts and processes an adipose specimen from the patient’s body, then injects these concentrated stem cells back into the patient at the injury site. The stem cells essentially do what they are designed to do: They begin differentiating into the specific cells needed to repair the damaged tissue at the injury site.
The wonderful thing about this form of treatment is that it is 100 percent free of foreign chemicals and drugs. We simply use the body’s own stem cells to help the body heal itself faster.
The conventional method of pain management has been to administer pain medication — usually opioids which can have profound side effects and can be highly addictive. Given the recent headlines about the opioid epidemic and the overuse of these drugs, doctors and patients alike have begun exploring alternative forms of treatment that don’t require the use of these powerful drugs. In fact, as New Scientist reports, stem cell therapy is widely being seen in the medical community as a means of curbing the opioid epidemic itself.
Stem cell therapy is not a direct pain-relieving therapy — but it does address pain at its source, first by reducing inflammation at the injury site, and then by repairing and replacing the damaged tissues (including nerve endings) that cause the pain in the first place. When you heal the damage, you eliminate the source of the pain. While it might not be as instant as a pain medication, stem cell therapy has the potential to cause lasting relief from pain and injury.
The primary application for back-related stem cell therapy at this time is for degenerative conditions, such as degenerative disc disease and disc herniation. When applied to the pain site, these stem cells can revitalize these degenerative areas, reducing inflammation and pain in the process. There are also studies suggesting stem cells may be able to regenerate damaged nerves as well, leading to possible use in directly treating spinal cord injuries.
Stem cells go to work almost immediately upon introduction to the injury site. Many patients experience pain relief and regeneration of back tissues within weeks of the first injection. In some cases, two or three injections may be necessary, scheduled several months apart.
If you have a back injury or degenerative condition that has not responded well to other treatments — and especially if you are concerned about the possibilities of opioid dependency — stem cell therapy may provide an excellent alternative solution to promote healing from your back injury. Just ask our patient, Debi Neisess, who found success with stem cell therapy after undergoing physical therapy and not finding the pain relief she needed.
To learn more about stem cell therapy and see whether you are a viable candidate, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center at 404.256.2633.