What is the best treatment for back pain? New alternatives to surgery.
Back pain is one of the most commonly cited forms of pain that the average person experiences. Nearly 65 million Americans have recently reported a recent episode of back pain, with 16 million adults experiencing a severe level of back pain. The activities that patients can engage in may be limited depending on the level of pain the patient experiences. This can in turn lower the patient’s quality of life. Back pain is the sixth most costly medical condition in the United States.
The treatment options available to patients with chronic back pain is quite limited. There are many patients who have attempted all of the conventional treatment methods to improve their back pain symptoms. These patients have grown understandably frustrated with western medicine and are open to embracing other forms of treatment.
Thankfully, the research community is looking at alternative treatment methods that could improve the quality of lives of patients with chronic back pain. Stem cell therapy has the potential to treat back pain and relieve the intense symptoms that patients regularly experience.
What Structures Make Up The Back?
In order to obtain a better understanding of back pain, we need to have an understanding of the structure of the back. The back structure needs to be intact, so that the body can perform normal movements. The breakdown of any part of the back structure can result in unintended consequences.
The lower back is the most important part of the spinal cord. There are 33 vertebrae that make up the spinal cord. Vertebrae have three integral functions in the body: bearing body weight, protecting the spinal cord and nerves, and transverse processes for ligament attachment. The lower back includes the first five vertebrae, which supports the weight of the upper body.
The spaces in between vertebrae are supported by intervertebral discs. These discs more or less work as shock absorbers to cushion the movements of the body and protect the spinal cord. Ligaments running up the spinal cord keep the vertebrae in place and tendons attach muscles to the spinal cord. There are 31 pairs of nerves that are rooted to the spinal cord that control various body movements and send signals to the brain.
Every part of the spinal cord is integral to the function of the musculoskeletal system. If there is a problem with any one of these pieces, then that could result in back pain in the lower back. Now that we have a better understanding of what makes up the back, let’s figure out what causes chronic back pain.
What Causes Back Pain?
The most common area that a patient will experience back pain is in the lower back. There are countless sources of back pain that the medical community has identified, but there may be even more that we do not quite understand yet.
Here are some of the most common conditions and ailments that cause back pain:
When a patient gains weight over a period of time the additional weight can cause added stress to the spinal column. The lower back deals with most of the weight of the upper body. Any additional weight in the upper body will lead to additional stress being put on the lower back. Pregnant women later in their pregnancy can experience lower back pain. The weight gained during pregnancy can unfortunately have the unintended side effect of back pain.
Degenerative Disc Disease
When the discs between the vertebrae breakdown or wear out, the result is a condition known as degenerative disc disease. The oxygen and nutrient levels that are being supplied to the discs are greatly depleted, which lead to the degeneration of the tissue. Some patients with this condition can have little to no tissue between the vertebrae, which can lead to them crashing together.
Once there is no cushion between the vertebrae, the nerves in the spinal cord can become pinched by the vertebrae. This can result in sharp, dull pain as a result of the pinched nerve. This condition can also reduce the flexibility of the spine, which can limit the movement of a patient.
Another common source of back is injuries that patients experience. Sprains and strains in the various tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the back can cause various levels of back pain in patients. Traumatic injuries occur all of the time and can end up causing patients extreme amounts of back pain. Injuries through playing sports or car accidents can completely change the structural integrity of the spinal cord. The spine can become compressed or discs in the back can rupture or herniation.
There are many other causes of back pain, but these are generally the most common.
Diagnosing Back Pain
Medical professionals often have a difficult time diagnosing back pain. There are so many potential issues that could cause back pain that it may take patients several months to obtain a proper diagnosis. That can be incredibly frustrating for a patient that is having to deal with constant pain over a long period of time with no idea what the cause is.
A physician will typically perform a physical exam on patients that are experiencing back pain. This is the quickest diagnostic method and a patient can be diagnosed in a matter of minutes. There are a multitude of physical tests that can be performed, such as a leg raise test which can help diagnose a herniated disc. A reflex test, range of motion test, palpation test, and other physical tests may be used to determine the diagnosis.
If the physician cannot diagnose the source of the back pain, then more testing will be needed.
One of the most common ways that a physician can diagnose chronic back pain is through the use of various imaging methods. Imaging can show what exactly is occurring in the musculoskeletal system in the back.
X-Rays can help medical professionals identify any tumors, bone spurs, or broken bones in the back. An x-ray will not show any issues with nerves, discs, or muscles. X-rays are used the least in diagnosing chronic back pain.
A computer tomography scan is a more detailed version of an x-ray. An x-ray is sent through the spine to record imaging and then a computer would turn it into a 3-D image. Physicians can view the spine from multiple angles, which can help them identify any abnormalities.
Magnetic resonance imaging can give physicians a much more detailed view of the spinal structure as compared to an x-ray. Physicians can see details of the back’s deep tissues, such as muscles. This imaging method is more expensive than other methods, which is why it is used less frequently. An MRI of the spine can diagnose issues with soft tissues in the spine, such as ligaments, discs, or muscles.
A patient may not suspect that a blood test would be helpful in diagnosing the source of their chronic back pain. Blood tests can help a physician diagnose an unexpected source of back pain. An infection could be a potential source of the back pain. Inflammatory arthritis can also be identified through the use of a blood test.
Often doctors will be unsure if the back pain is related to nerve damage or muscle damage. A physical examination may not be able to determine the cause of the back pain. A patient may be required to receive an electromyogram. This is a test that involves sticking needles into muscles in the back and then monitoring the electrical activity. Physicians will then be able to determine if the cause of the back pain is nerve damage or muscle disease. This test can help determine if there is nerve compression or the narrowing of the spinal column.
Once a patient is properly diagnosed with their condition, medical professionals have a few treatments that they can utilize in order to relieve patients of their pain.
Current Treatment Methods
There are a variety of treatment options that patients who experience back pain can utilize to relieve their symptoms or solve the underlying condition.
If a patient is experiencing a low level of back pain, medications can typically be used in order to manage the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as Motrin, can be used to treat lower levels of back pain. Patients with this type of back pain can usually manage by taking this medication on days that their back pain is interfering with their daily activities. Medications typically do not solve the underlying condition that is causing lower back pain.
Steroid shots can also be used to treat chronic back pain. This treatment type involves receiving a steroid shot every few months to lower the inflammation level in the target area. Steroid shots typically reduce the level of cartilage in the target area, which can make the condition worse over the long term. Medication is a short term treatment method, which may not work for patients with chronic back pain.
Some patients can reduce their chronic back pain by making some lifestyle changes. Simple heat and ice treatments can be used to reduce inflammation at the site of the pain, which can help reduce symptoms. Acupuncture also appears to have some success for patients with chronic back pain.
Exercising can relieve some of the lower back pain that patients experience. The muscles surrounding the lower back can be strengthened through exercise, which can alleviate the load that the lower back has to carry. Stretching can also help by improving the elasticity of tendons and ligaments, which can improve flexibility and decrease back pain.
Patients can also lose weight in order to relieve back pain. Losing weight can reduce the load that the spinal cord has to carry. Many women who are pregnant and dealing with back pain will often have their symptoms completely go away after giving birth. Making lifestyle changes is difficult for many patients, which is why the medical community continues to look for alternative treatments.
If there is another underlying condition, patients may have to resort to a more severe treatment method, such as surgery.
Surgical intervention is usually a last resort for a patient. There are a number of types of back pain surgery, such as decompression surgery, which aims to decompress the spinal cord, spinal fusion, where the surgeon will fuse vertebrae together. The type of surgery a patient receives is largely dependent on their condition and a number of other factors.
Surgery success rates for chronic lower back pain vary widely depending on the source of the back pain. One study estimates that surgery to relieve back pain was successful about 50% of the time, while another study found success rates were between 70% and 90%. Surgery is also always a risky procedure, especially dealing with a sensitive area of the body, such as the spine. There are several complications that can easily occur when a patient goes under the knife. Additionally, patients may have to recover from their surgery anywhere from weeks to months. Surgery is obviously not the ideal solution for patients with chronic back pain.
Multiple studies have found that there are patients who will never fully recover. These patients will experience chronic back pain for years or even the rest of their lives. That is precisely why the research community has been looking into alternative treatment options for patients with chronic back pain. Stem cell therapy has the potential to completely change how the medical community treats this condition.
Stem Cell Therapy For Back Pain
The medical community has a need for the development of new, innovative treatments for patients with chronic back pain. Stem cells have a number of remarkable capabilities that make them an attractive therapeutic candidate for patients with chronic back pain. There is a very good chance that stem cell therapy will be an accepted treatment method for back pain in the near future.
Stem cells release a number of growth and regenerative factors that encourage the body to replace and repair damaged tissues and cells. Stem cells are the building blocks of the body in simplest terms. When injected into the target area, stem cells are able to promote healing and regeneration in that area.
Some researchers have been able to grow miniature organs using stem cells. If entire organs can be grown one day, then stem cells should certainly be able to regenerate tissue, ligaments, and cartilage throughout the spinal cord. Stem cell therapy could be used to treat a number of back musculoskeletal conditions. Additionally, stem cell therapy is much less invasive as compared to other treatment methods, such as surgery.
Chronic back pain is often accompanied by intense inflammation. Stem cells have various anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the level of inflammation in the lower back. There are many theories on why stem cells have the ability to reduce inflammation, but some researchers believe that it comes down to how stem cells use different metabolic processes to meet energy demands.
Most cells use oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate, otherwise known as energy. Stem cells do not rely on just oxygen to produce energy, they can even use just sugar to produce energy. When stem cells use these different metabolic processes, it enhances their response to inflammatory environments. Stem cells may be using the energy produced to fight off inflammation.
Another interesting research finding is that the metabolic processes in older cells are often compromised. Stem cells in older patients do not have the same anti-inflammatory properties that younger stem cells possess. This could potentially lead to chronic back pain in older patients. Injecting older patients with young stem cells may help to reduce the level of inflammation present. The younger stem cells have the necessary signaling and processes to reduce inflammation.
Stem cell therapy to treat chronic back pain is not just a theory. Researchers are beginning to show that stem cells can become a long-term viable alternative treatment method to relieve back pain.
Promising Early Research
The research community has already shown that stem cells may be a viable treatment method for patients that are experiencing chronic back pain.
Researchers have shown that stem cells can slow or reverse catabolic metabolism, which is the process that the body breaks down large molecules, mitigates primary disc pain, and restores tissue in a disc. Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into all three germ layers of tissue. The collagen that has been previously broken down in vertebrae may be regenerated.
Stem cell therapy has been looked at for a number of chronic back pain conditions, including degenerative disc disease. A few studies have shown that stem cells can be helpful in preventing or even reversing the progression of the condition.
A 2017 clinical trial testing stem cells on patients with degenerative disc disease was successful. 2 mL of stem cells were injected into the nucleus pulposus of the disc that was degenerating. The reduction of pain was significant for patients that received the treatment. The level of pain went from 82.1 +/- 2.6 to 21.9 +/- 4.4, 36 months after the final injection. The pain level went from intense to mild, which was remarkable.
After one year, MRI scans showed that 40% of patients improved their Pfirrman score by an entire grade and no patient was worse off. Only six out of the 26 patients that were treated needed surgery after 36 months. That is a remarkable improvement as compared to conventional treatment methods. Overall the clinical trial was successful and showcases how powerful of a treatment method stem cells can be.
Researchers at Yale University were able to utilize stem cells in order to treat damaged spinal cords. The researchers took the patient's own stem cells and multiplied them in a lab and then they were reinjected into the patients around 40 days after their injury. An intravenous injection of stem cells into the patient’s spinal cords showed improvements in several factors.
The stem cells took effect within weeks of the injection. 12 out of 12 patients showed improvements in sensory or motor functions within six months of receiving the treatment. The IV drip of stem cells makes it an attractive treatment option that is non-invasive. Patients with damaged spinal cords may be able to receive an IV drip of stem cells after their injury to completely recover.
This study further demonstrates that stem cell therapy could become a viable method for patients with chronic back pain. The BioXcellerator team has been able to help patients who were suffering from multiple conditions and diseases at our facility in Medellin, Colombia.
The BioXcellerator team is always looking to improve our treatment methods and the health of our patients. Lower back pain is a persistent issue and we are dedicated to finding the best way to treat this condition. The BioXcellerator team has developed an innovative treatment method to ensure that our patients receive stem cells that have the best chance of reversing any damage caused to the structure of the back.
Our team uses a rigorous vetting process to filter out stem cells that are less potent than their counterparts. The selection process is based on the most advanced standards and regulations that various stem cell organizations have determined. We took those standards and regulations and made them even more strict. The end result is a set of stem cells that have the most therapeutic potential that should be able to improve the chronic back pain that patients are experiencing in a more effective manner than conventional stem cell therapy techniques.
If you are suffering from back pain, reach out to BioXcellerator today to learn more about potential treatment options. Our patient team is more than happy to answer any questions that you may have about stem cell therapy and chronic back pain. Anyone will lower back pain may be able to improve their symptoms through the use of stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine.