“Although not yet widespread in orthopedics treatment the use of adult stem cells to address musculoskeletal conditions is an intriguing concept,” states a recent article by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Regenerative medicine specialists, like myself, have been seeing profound results using stem cell treatments for musculoskeletal pain, similar to the results we have seen in joint disease, and feel that it is far more than an intriguing concept. It is a reality that’s already showing great promise for many patients including Vail resident Steve Jemison who says he believes the discs in his lower back will be as good as new by the 2015 ski season based on his three-month recovery since having the procedure.
Current Therapies for Degenerative Disc Disease
Current options for therapy for degenerative disc disease range from non-invasive therapeutic exercise to more invasive surgical procedures. In the following couple of years, we believe we will see autologous stem cell injections become an effective, frequently employed modality that will greatly contribute to the minimally invasive treatment options. We have already begun to see early improvements in pain and function in the patients we have treated thus far for discogenic back pain.
Stem Cells Are Changing Medicine
Stem cell therapies are a fascinating addition to modern medicine and are showing enormous potential to treat a wide range of conditions. They demonstrate the ability to treat many musculoskeletal conditions, e.g. herniated discs, damaged joints and cartilage, and orthopedic conditions such as osteonecrosis, nonunion fractures, and arthritis. Regarding stem cell therapy for degenerative disc disease, recent studies have shown improvements in both disc height and hydration, which in turn has the potential to restore function and minimize pain.
In January of 2014, Mesoblast Limited reported results from a 12-month 100 patient trial injecting mesenchymal precursor cells into the discs of patients with moderate to severe chronic discogenic low back pain. The results showed that a single injection of cells into the degenerative discs reduced low back pain and improved function in these patients for at least a year. When they compared the patients to a control group receiving either saline or hyaluronic acid, the cell treated group demonstrated decreased use of narcotic pain medication, greater x-ray demonstrated disc stability and underwent less additional surgical and non-surgical treatment interventions.
These initial studies are compelling and have us excited to continue advancing the techniques that will improve stem cell therapy and treatments for spinal conditions. I have spent 20 years treating spine pain and became fascinated with stem cells with the hope of non-surgically reducing debilitating back pain. I believe in the coming years that minimally invasive spinal stem cell procedures will begin to replace many of the spinal surgeries being performed today.