One new but promising form of pain management and injury treatment uses adult stem cell to help stimulate tissue repair and growth of new cells. This is especially helpful for soft-tissue injuries, including those to the neck and back. Although the functions of different potential stem cell therapies are still being studied, this type of treatment has the potential to be helpful for a number of different types of patients.
How the procedure works: First, the patient’s own stem cells are harvested for use. Using the patient’s own cells rather than a transplant can help avoid potential complications. This can be done in two different ways. First, stem cells can be taken from the patient’s bone marrow. This is the same process used for bone marrow transplants between two different people. In some cases, cells from fat reserves can also be used.
Once these cells are developed into a solution and induced to form the type of tissue needed, the solution is injected directly into the treatment site. The stem cells then develop into new cells to replace damaged or missing tissue, and help to stimulate repair and growth in the surrounding cells.
Potential effects: Adult stem cells like the ones found in bone marrow are new cells that have the potential to form one of a different number of types of cells. Many of the stem cells found in adults are multipotent, meaning they can form multiple types of cells within the same family (such as nerve or muscle). However, these along with pluripotent bone marrow stem cells can still be induced to grow a wide variety of tissues.
The procedure has a gradual effect, as new tissue eventually grows and damaged tissue either is replaced or repaired. Over the next several months after their procedures, many patients reported significant and lasting pain relief and improved function.
The risk of complications from these procedures is quite low, particularly as no foreign tissue is used, eliminating the potential for rejection. There is some risk of infection at the treatment site.
Conditions it can be used to treat: Among other uses for stem cell therapy, it has been explored as a method for orthopedic healing, including for back injuries. It is currently being tested for a few different types of injuries and pain conditions, including:
Osteoarthritis: Research suggests that stem cells can help to regenerate cartilage that may have degenerated in knees or other joints.
Herniated or degenerated discs and lower back pain: Stem cells are thought to be helpful in repairing damaged spinal discs, which would relieve pressure on the surrounding tissue.
Musculoskeletal injuries: There has been experimentation with different methods for using stem cells to stimulate regeneration to replace scar tissue.
Sciatica/nerve pain: For impinged nerves causing pain, numbness, and other effects, stem cells may help repair damage once the pressure on the nerve has been relieved.
While the use of stem cells in any of these types of treatment is in the early stages and still experimental, for some patients it shows promise as a last resort when surgery and other pain treatments have failed. Pain managements doctors working on clinical trials or other types of studies can discuss whether this might be a good option for you.