Chronic lower back pain is a condition that affects millions of Americans and is one of the leading causes of disability in this country, with an estimated 80% of adults experiencing back pain in their lifetime. The causes of lower back pain can vary, and it’s unlikely you can easily identify the cause by observing the symptoms. That’s one reason chronic pain conditions related to the back are so vaguely defined.
One major cause of chronic lower back pain is disc degeneration, the pathological level of which is called Degenerative Disc Disease. The discs in your back are jelly-filled shock absorbers for your spine. Disc degeneration occurs when discs within your spine begin to degenerate, eventually leading to pinched nerves. On some level, degeneration of these types of tissues happens to some extent with age. However, when the degradation outruns normal bodily aging processes, this is DDD.
Symptoms of disc problems in your lower back include:
- Pain in the back, legs, and/or buttocks
- Numbness, or a “pins and needles” sensation
- Pain that onsets or increases with certain movements
- Pain during/after sitting or standing for a long time
When left untreated, the pain can often become extremely severe and debilitating. In some cases, patients may feel as if they’ve pulled their back, leaving them with limited mobility. Currently, there are only a limited number of therapies available in these situations, like physical therapy, discectomies, and fusions, all of which are often partnered with a pain maintenance medication. But now researchers are considering alternatives to discectomies and back fusion, mainly, the use of stem cell treatments for lower back pain. While there are still significant legal and cost hurdles involved in the research, more and more patients are turning to stem cells for managing their back pain.
An Alternative to Harmful Pain Medicine & Invasive Surgeries
Patients with lower back pain often resort to the use of dangerous levels of opiate drugs to help reduce their pain levels. In some cases, patients may need to wear a back brace. And in other situations, their doctor may recommend back surgery. Back surgery is a risky procedure that may actually do more harm than good. In a fusion procedure, a surgeon may install metal rods in your back.
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that this surgery will help alleviate pain. In some cases, it can worsen the pain. Furthermore, patients may need further surgeries to correct the results of the first surgery. Patients may also have a limited range of mobility for the rest of their lives once there is a fusion.
If your doctor is recommending back surgery, you may want to try out other alternatives before proceeding with a surgery that is not possible to reverse. As well, long-term pain maintenance via oral opiates doesn’t remedy the situation at all, and it may do damage to other vital parts of your body, like your liver, kidneys, and stomach. With the prevalence of back pain in adults, coupled with the shortcomings and dangers of these traditional treatment methods, stem cell injections for chronic lower back pain have promising implications.
Back Pain: The Evidence for Stem Cells
A 2013 study looked at 24 adults who reported chronic lower back pain for a minimum of 3 months and had scans that indicated a level of disc degeneration or trauma. All were administered one dose of bone-marrow-sourced stem cell solution via injection and then revisited one year later to measure any positive and adverse results. Half of the subjects had other procedures done on their spine, so it was impossible to say what the stem cell injection did or didn’t do for their lower back pain. But of the 12 who only had stem cell treatments, all reported a reduction in pain beginning 60-120 days after the initial injection therapy.
In 2016, researchers found that patients with chronic lower back pain had immediate improvement after only one stem cell injection. A 2017 analysis of several published studies on stem cell use for back pain showed a consistent ability to reduce pain symptoms and improve daily function in patients with disc degeneration.
According to additional research in regenerative medicine, stem cell treatment for lower back pain may be an effective option for people trying to avoid disc degeneration. Even better, research has not indicated any adverse effects of using stem cell injections for disc degeneration, aside from the very minor risk of infection that comes with any type of injection.
As a stem cell doctor, Dr. Blatman has treated numerous patients using stem cells for lower back pain and he can testify to the results. While the therapeutic benefits differ according to the individual, stem cell therapy has helped many regain movement, capabilities, and life enjoyment. In addition to treating the lower back, he has also seen significant benefits for patients suffering from neck pain, knee pain, and fibromyalgia. Stem cell treatments can work, though on what level it works differs for each individual.
How Many Stem Cell Treatments Are Needed to Reduce Back Pain?
When it comes to treating back pain with stem cells, research suggests that it may be very effective. The total number of stem cell treatments you need will depend on the severity of the pain and the nature of your condition. As you previously read, researchers reported that only 1 injection of stem cells was necessary for patients to experience significant relief.
However, in some cases, patients may require multiple treatments over a certain course of time. It’s also important to keep in mind that stem cell therapy works differently than surgery. Discectomies and fusions are often mitigative – because the root cause of low back pain is often not the spine or the disc.
But stem cells are restorative – they work by repairing cartilage and other damaged tissue internally. Just like how your body can mend a broken bone, it can fix areas like your back, neck, or knees. However, it requires time, mindful care, and patience. Sometimes, it also requires a little extra help. This is where stem cell therapy can be useful as an alternative to back surgery and maintenance medications for pain.
After they’re injected into your back, the stem cells go to work repairing and restoring injured tissue. Research into stem cells suggests that it can take a few weeks or months before initial improvement is noticed. In fact, some patients report considerable improvement with every passing month, up to an entire year! That’s the beauty of stem cell therapy — the effects can be long-lasting and tend to build over time.
But if you’re worried about waiting an entire year for results – don’t be. Many patients notice results almost immediately, with most reporting some level of pain reduction within 4-6 weeks. And it’s important to remember that stem cell therapy isn’t nearly as invasive as surgery. Where surgery is usually a mechanically-corrective fix, stem cells work with your body to heal the injured tissue at the source – completely eliminating the pain. Stem cells can be highly therapeutic for back pain, neck pain, and knee pain. Dr. Blatman has even had success using stem cells to treat the pain of fibromyalgia.
If you’ve got chronic lower back pain, Degenerative Disc Disease, or another chronic pain condition, consider the possibilities of stem cells as an alternative to surgical procedures and prescription pain killers. The Blatman Health and Wellness Center in Cincinnati, OH offers regenerative therapies, holistic treatments, and mind-body therapies that help patients’ pain symptoms abate, and truly heal the source of the pain. With 30 years of experience, Dr. Blatman knows first-hand the potentials of stem cell injections for a wide array of tissue injuries.