The use of stem cells as treatment and therapy has gained widespread public attention over the past few years. Stem cells have been hailed as the cure for many ailments, from leukemia to cerebral palsy to sickle-cell anemia. Because these treatments have been so pivotal and significant, a growing body of research has begun looking into the potential for other stem cell therapies.
One of the most recent areas of exploration for stem cell therapy is in treating aches and pains.
Research is still being conducted, but the potential for stem cells to alleviate pain is well worth the work. Not only does it appear that stem cells can treat inflammation and injury, but they may be able to regenerate cartilage lost from degenerative illnesses as well. Here is what the most recent look into stem cell therapy for pain looks like.
The Pain Epidemic
Over 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. Aches and pains can interfere with work and everyday life, making it hard to complete important tasks or even to get a good night’s sleep. The most common types of everyday pain include knee and back pain, and headaches. There are many causes for aches in the body: diet, exercise, mental disorders, illness, medication side effects…the list seems endless. The current method for treating recurrent or long-term aches and pains is through medicine, therapy, massage, and surgery, and while these treatments may help abate some of the symptoms, there is no cure for chronic pain.
One of the biggest issues facing treatment for pain is drug abuse. Two thirds of people suffering from pain stated that over the counter painkillers did not help, and opioid addiction and abuse has been deemed a national crisis. These drugs also bring plenty of side effects, from nausea and dizziness to damage of the stomach, kidneys, and liver.
Surgery for pains in the back, knees, and other joints is invasive and comes with the risk of infection. Because surgery tends not to get rid of the cause, there may be a need for follow-up surgery and lengthy therapy afterward.
Using Stem Cells to Help Treat Pain
The collection of stem cells is a non-invasive non-surgical procedure using a local anesthetic to numb the location. A needle is inserted into the fat or bone marrow and a sample of cells is drawn. Stem cells are then isolated, concentrated, and injected back into the body at the site needing repair. These stem cells grow into bone, tendon, and muscle tissue and repair damages to the body.
With breakthroughs in stem cell therapy, there may be a safer, less invasive treatment to everyday aches and pains than medication or surgery. Many studies have found stem cells to be a potential cure for joint degradation and pain. Arthritis, an illness involving loss of cartilage, comes with a building amount of acute and chronic pain as it progresses. Stem cells introduced to the joints of patients with arthritis rebuild the lost cartilage, padding the damaged joint and relieving pain. In a study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, 15 patients were treated for degenerative disc disease. Stem cells were introduced to alleviate back pain, and all 15 patients noted a significant decrease in pain after the procedure.
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Not everyone that suffers from pain has a serious disease like arthritis. Some individuals live with pain caused by inflammation from an injury or illness, a normal function that can spiral out of control and delay healing. Stem cells introduced to the area may help abate the inflammation for good. Torn ligaments and fractured bones could heal much faster with the introduction of stem cells, similar to the regeneration of cartilage in patients with arthritis.
Risks and Complications
Despite the fact that stem cell research is fairly new and treatments are still being created and tested, it seems that very few serious risks come with stem cell treatments. Infection of the injection sites are the only noted risk with the procedure, but complications like this are extremely minimal, and far less likely than the infection risk of surgery.
Stem cells and their correlation to curing degenerative illnesses is still in its infancy as an area of research. One procedure will not work for every form of pain and its causes, and just because stem cell treatments may work for one person and one injury type does not mean it will work for everyone. These types of treatments cannot create new joints or bones where degradation is severe, so the sooner treatment can be started, the better the outlook for recovery.
Because the body of studies proving the link between stem cells and pain relief is small, there is little evidence to solidly back claims. The FDA has yet to approve any procedure. Still, this hasn’t stopped clinics from opening and advertising their own methods of stem cell therapy for aches and pains. Without regulation, these procedures have the potential to prove dangerous.
Because stem cell therapies are still being tested, there is much that is unknown about their effects on certain ailments. Many of the studies conducted to understand stem cells and their effects on pain have been in relation to inflammatory or autoimmune disorders, illnesses that degrade the muscles and joints of the body, causing serious chronic pain. The jury is still out on whether stem cells are a viable option for all forms of pain throughout the body.
Pain is a serious issue, but the causes are numerous, and no treatment will work for every ache. Though the research is still in its early stages, the outlook seems positive for stem cells and treating aches and pains. There are still many studies to conduct and steps to take before stem cell therapies can become readily available for the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain. From inflammation and injury to degenerative diseases, the potential for stem cells to reduce or cure long-lasting pain is too significant to ignore.
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