Degenerating spinal discs are the source of chronic pain for many of the patients who come in to our New Jersey practice. We offer many effective treatment options, and are constantly watching out for additional innovations that we can provide to our patients. One fascinating alternative is stem cell therapy. This treatment is already in use in the United States, and is getting increasing support and interest around the world. A recent report written by researchers in Australia revealed that stem cells extracted from a single healthy person can be used to generate cells that can treat thousands of patients, and may provide effective relief from pain.
The discs between our vertebrae often cause pain when they are injured, but they can also show signs of wear and tear as we age, dehydrating and losing their cushioning capabilities. The recently-released research was conducted over a 10-year period and followed 100 different patients, finding that over one year of treatment their pain level was cut in half when compared to placebo. Those patients found that the treatments were not only enough to decrease their reliance on pain medications, but also dramatically reduced their need for back and neck surgery. Though the treatment option still needs further investigation, the results are promising.
The theory behind using stem cells for spinal discs rests on stopping and reversing degeneration. According to neurosurgeon Tony Goldschlager, who is principal investigator for the study, “The stem cells themselves are important anti-inflammatory agents,” he says. “They also trigger the body’s own cells, which are asleep in a dehydrated disc, to start working. The disc works by producing proteins that attract water. When the cells don’t work properly, they can’t use those proteins, and the discs lose their shock-absorbing capacity.”
The Australian study’s next phase is scheduled for later this year, and is intended to gauge both the safety of injecting stem cells into the back and how long the treatment is effective. Goldschlager says, “We don’t know yet if the benefits of the stem cells will carry on for five or ten years. But even if it only lasted for two years, an injection every two years is better than all current alternatives.”
As a cervical spine specialist in New Jersey, when patients come in for treatment of degenerative discs, we generally start with non-invasive treatment including anti-inflammatory medications, the application of ice and/or heat, and exercise that helps to build up the muscles that support the spine. Stem cells injections are an option, and physical therapy is often extremely helpful as are other lifestyle changes. It is only when these options don’t work that we move on to surgical options such as discectomy, spinal fusion, or cervical disc replacement. To get relief for your back and neck pain, contact our office today to set up a convenient appointment.