Can Stem Cell Therapy Reduce Low Back Pain?

September 11,2018

If you suffer from lower back pain or sciatica, you likely have your own definition of what miserable feels like. Some patients have reported crawling around on the floor or draping their body over the arm of a sofa to enjoy a few moments of relief. A common culprit of lower back pain is facet joint syndrome but many other factors can cause you to hurt. A pain doctor can quickly rule out the presence of causes like a cancerous tumor, but like millions of Americans you will likely end up with a diagnosis of soft tissue inflammation from a sprain or bulging disc. Although damage from hyperextension of muscles and tendons can usually be treated effectively following conservative methods, degenerative disc disease may not be as manageable using ice and heat along with OTC pain medications.

Historically, a back doctor would order an MRI and then prescribe opioids to help manage a patient's chronic low back pain. Today, with the medical community grappling over evidence of a growing opioid crisis, it is expected that more than 100 million Americans may need to find new ways to relieve their pain. In fact, President Trump has already declared the opioid epidemic to be a "public health emergency", which reflects a drastic change in attitude around long-term use of prescription pain medications. Although there's no doubt that opioid addiction with more than 30,000 overdoses each year has created a real health crisis, about one in three workers in the United States still suffer with chronic pain at a cost of around $600 billion annually in medical treatments and lost productivity.

A recent survey on chronic panic management published by Healthline revealed that about 48 percent of the nearly 600 sufferers questioned felt they got some relief from pain medications while less than 5 percent reported total pain relief. Those numbers certainly suggest opioids are not resolving the problem regardless of the abuse issues. On the other hand, early studies into the use of stem cell therapy to relieve low back pain seem promising. Sometimes called the "body's own repair kit", stem cells extracted from the patient's bone marrow have been injected into to the space around damaged disc to promote healing. It should be pointed out that the science is still in the early stages and the long-term risks of stem cell therapy are still unknown.

Most recently, hall of fame golfer Jack Nicklaus made a public announcement that he had experimental stem cell surgery performed in Germany two years ago and it has provided more pain relief than anything he had tried. However, neither the procedure nor the results have been peer-reviewed, so there are still many unknowns. While many pain patients who do not abuse their medications are upset over the change in policy regarding opioid use, others think the growing demand for an effective medical intervention may benefit from the changes. If you suffer with chronic or acute pain, scheduling an appointment with a primary care physician is the best starting point. At PrimeMED in Jacksonville, Orange Park and St. Augustine, our board certified physicians and therapists have years of experience in physical medicine for managing both neck and back pain.