Traditionally, stem cell therapy has been used to treat certain illnesses, diseases, and conditions. For example, stem cell therapy is an increasingly popular alternative to knee replacement surgery, providing a lower risk option with a dramatically shortened recovery period. Stem cells are also used to treat a variety of cancers that have not responded well to more conventional therapy. However, as stem cell technology and therapy continue to evolve, it can be extended to even more medical challenges. We regularly explore some of these new extensions, providing invaluable information to the public. One promising area of extension is treating chronic back pain.
Back Pain in the United States
Millions of Americans are impacted by back pain, and this back pain has significant negative effects on workplace productivity and also costs the country hundreds of millions of dollars in treatments each year. The American Chiropractic Association suggests that more than 260 million work days are lost each year to workers’ back pain and this does not take into account lowered productivity for workers who are at work, but are not able to work at the same pace as they could if they were healthy. Perhaps even more alarmingly, the American Chiropractic Association also reports that more than 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at least once during their life.
There are multiple different ways that this back pain has traditionally been treated. For example, some patients may go through back surgery to address their back pain. These surgeries are generally spinal fusions. Although some patients may benefit from these surgeries, surgeries carry a wide range of risks and may not be an appropriate option for everyone, such as older Americans or individuals with chronic heart disease or other complicating medical factors. Also, surgery may not work for everyone. Other people rely on physical therapy or chiropractic assistance to help them with their back pain. And still others turn to pharmaceuticals to alleviate their pain, but, these pharmaceuticals may cause side effects and there are also addiction related concerns with the chronic use of opioid pain relievers.
Even with these options, many people still experience chronic back pain. And, this leads to frustration, anxiety, and a whole host of other problems.
An Alternative Approach to Treating Back Pain
Given the fact that many people still experience lingering back pain that negatively impacts their quality of life, as well as creating an economic drain for the country as a whole, the medical community continues to look for alternatives to address this back pain. One new approach is utilizing stem cells.
It is important to remember that not all back pain is the same. Back pain can occur in different parts of the back, from the upper areas to the lower regions. And, the reasons behind this back pain can be dramatically different. For example, some people experience back pain as a result of trauma or injuries, overuse may also strain muscles (particularly in the lower back region). But, back pain can also be the result of nerve problems or the degeneration of discs in the back.
Stem cell therapy may be more appropriate to treat certain types of back pain (compared with others). For example, stem cell therapy may be a great choice for patients with degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, and facet joint dysfunction. Stem cell therapy may also be a great choice to treat sciatica.
No matter what condition is being treated with stem cell therapy, the protocol for the treatment remains remarkably the same. Stem cells are harvested from the adult patient and prepared for injection back into his/her body. The prepared stem cells are then injected directly into the disc(s) that have experienced degeneration. Medical professionals believe that these stem cells will stimulate lubrication in the disc and may also help repair the disc itself. A lack of hydration in the space surrounding discs explains a significant portion of the pain associated with degenerative disc disease. Therefore, if one can address the hydration challenge, then a patient’s pain level is likely to improve, perhaps even to a significant degree.
For facet joint dysfunction, the stem cells are injected directly into the joint that is causing the patient pain. As one can see from above, it is important to accurately diagnose a patient prior to launching stem cell therapy. This accurate diagnosis helps ensure that stem cells are injected directly into the injured part of the body.
Given the fact that stem cell therapy is relatively non-invasive, the risk factors associated with stem cell therapy are minor, especially when compared with the risks of back surgery performed under general anesthesia. The recovery time is also minimal. Whereas surgery may result in patients losing weeks of work and needing to complete intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation, a person who undergoes stem cell therapy can usually return to their regular activities that same day, but hopefully at a dramatically reduced pain level.
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Things to Keep in Mind
It is important to remember that stem cell therapy is relatively new, at least in terms of treating chronic back pain. This means that several questions still remain. For example, more research needs to be conducted to pinpoint the efficacy of stem cell therapy for treating back pain. At the moment, many doctors are pursuing this treatment based on anecdotal evidence. Research will also ideally better indicate what back problems may respond to stem cell therapy.
Because stem cell therapy is a relatively new therapeutic approach, many insurance companies do not cover this treatment. This means that people have to pay out-of-pocket for the service, which may price some people out of the market. Also, not all clinics offer stem cell therapy for back pain, in fact, only a handful of clinics across the country provide this option. Therefore, people in certain areas of the country may not have access to this treatment.
It is also important to remember that stem cell therapy is not necessarily an all-or-nothing approach. In other words, it is often used in conjunction with other treatment methods. For example, for people with facet joint dysfunction, stem cell therapy may be coupled up with radiofrequency lesioning. At ThriveMD, they are also using a broad spectrum multi-purpose protease inhibitor, A2M, to attempt to counteract disc breakdown.
As with any medical therapy or treatment, it is important to carefully discuss the pros and cons of stem cell therapy with your provider before pursuing this treatment option.
Millions of Americans are negatively impacted by back pain each year. This back pain impinges on their quality of life and causes a wide range of economic hardships, both for individuals and for the country as a whole. There are a wide range of standard treatment methods available to treat back pain, such as spinal surgeries, physical therapy, and pharmaceuticals, but many people do not see a symptom improvement with these approaches. Therefore, the medical community has looked for alternative ways of treating back pain. Although additional research still needs to be performed, initial indications are that stem cell therapy may do an excellent job of alleviating pain and other symptoms for many people with various types of back pain, while not having the same risks as many other treatment options.