Low back and leg pain is very common. It has many causes including arthritic and degenerating discs and joints in the spine which compress the nerves. The cause and standard treatment strategies have been well studied over many decades. Spine surgeons and other treatment providers are now confident in the traditional therapy, injections and even surgeries we offer.
More recently, stem cell therapy is being commercialized as a viable treatment strategy. While the concept of stem cell therapy can be appealing, and extensive research is ongoing, there is little scientific evidence showing good results. However, individual clinics offer this expensive therapy without any data or benefit to their patients.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are immature cells in the body that can grow into any mature cell. As we develop from a fetus into a baby in our mother’s belly, all of our cells initially start off as stem cells. Our body’s innate blueprint transforms the stem cells into heart, lung, kidney, nerve tissue, etc. If we could somehow take stem cells out of the body, transform them into a specific type of cell (such as disc cell) and then re-implant them into a degenerated disc, then we could theoretically alleviate back pain.
What Does the Research Show?
Stem cells can be isolated from many different sources in adults. We no longer need to rely on fetuses for embryonic stem cells.
Numerous studies have shown that we can transform stem cells into certain tissues. In fact, the surgeon at Rocky Mountain Brain & Spine Institute has performed stem cell research in rats and monkeys trying to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Unfortunately, we still have very little control in directing the stem cells to the type of tissue we desire. Most of them transform into scar tissue or unintended types of cells. When we implant these cells, very little evidence has shown regeneration of damaged tissue.
As little research has reliably used stem cells to regenerate a degenerated disc, we do not know the long-term results of using stem cells, including harm to the body or even cancer.
Will Stem Cells Ever Be Able to Treat Back Pain?
It is possible that stem cells could regenerate a disc and alleviate back pain in the future. However, that day is not yet here. The fact is that once stem cell therapy works, all surgeons will be doing this type of procedure. It would not be expensive, and it would not require specialized clinics. Clinicians claiming otherwise are not “pioneers”.
At Rocky Mountain Brain & Spine Institute, we’re here to relieve your back pain! Give us a call today to learn more about our surgical options.