Some back pain sufferers may be feeling the effects of worn-out discs in the spine, and stem cells may be someday used as a treatment. Researchers are trying a new approach to treat lower back pain, using the body's own repair method.
A procedure that involves harvesting bone marrow from a person's body and then re-injecting it into the person's back may offer back pain relief for some. The technique is in the testing stages and more research needs to be done to confirm that it actually has positive effects.
For the study, Meyer and colleagues reviewed the medical case of 24 patients who were injected with their own bone marrow. These were patients with a history of back pain for over 12 years. Tests showed that these patients had damage to the discs that act as cushions to bones located in the spine.
Lower back pain is believed to be caused by degeneration of the discs and is common with age. When it becomes debilitating and stubborn to alternative forms of treatment, invasive spinal fusion is an option.
"Fusion is a big, big step with questionable effectiveness. Often, you're back in the same boat a year later," Dr. Joseph Meyer Jr. said. Meyer is an anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist at the Columbia Interventional Pain Center in St. Louis.
Out of the 24 patients that had the bone marrow injections, half of them had other procedures over the course of 30 months. The 12 remaining had no other treatment and 10 reported a reduction of back pain within four months of the bone marrow injection procedure. One year later, eight of those patients still reported back pain relief.
"I tell everybody that this is experimental, with a capital E. We don't know if it works. I do believe that it's safe, but it might not do anything for you," said Meyer. Stem cells located in the body's bone marrow can help the body repair itself by healing tissues.