How Can Stem Cell Therapy Help Degenerative Disc Disease?

Category: Blog

Degenerative disc disease is a degenerative process affecting the intervertebral discs. Pain is experienced due to loss of cushioning, fragmentation and herniation related to aging. There are more than 3 million cases of regenerative disc disease in the US every year. At PM&R Associates, we offer stem cell injection treatments for disc pain.

What is a stem cell injection?

The injection of stem cells is a biologic treatment, which means the patient gets better with time and the effect lasts longer than pharmaceutical treatments. Stem cells are suspended in platelet-rich plasma (PRP), so the patient gets the benefits of both at one price: The patient gets stem cells, platelets, fibrin, and growth factors.

For disc pain, stem cells are first obtained, usually from fat, and then injected into one or more degenerated spinal discs. The injection is always done with x-ray guidance. This is a procedure to reduce pain and increase function in a patient with a degenerated painful spinal disc.

Am I a candidate?

Anyone with a painful spinal disc is a candidate for stem cell therapy. Usually, it is done in patients that have not gotten relief from less invasive procedures such as epidural steroid injections (ESI) or selective nerve injections or blocks, TENS units, physical therapy, facet joint injections and similar treatments. The only surgical procedure that treats the degenerated discs is a surgical fusion and it may be no more successful.

What should you expect from the treatment process?

In order to obtain the stem cells, fat must be taken from your abdomen by a needle and syringe aspiration. Fluid with numbing medication is injected before the fat is removed with a syringe. The fat is dissolved and the stem cells are obtained and then mixed with platelet rich plasma, which is obtained from you blood. After the stem cells have been processed and mixed, they are injected into the degenerated discs.

Discomfort at the site where the fat was obtained is mild and goes away in a few days. There is usually significant pain and pressure in the back or neck after the procedure, which goes away on its own after a few days, but in some individuals, the discomfort can last longer.

After the procedure, you will be asked not to take a bath or use a hot tub until all the injection sites have healed. You may take a shower the day of the procedure. We ask you not to increase your activity too quickly as you get better to avoid any setbacks.

Patients are seen back in the office two months after the procedure, and by then patients usually have started to get better. Patients can continue to see results for many months afterward.

What are the risks and side effects?

Infection is one of the more serious side effects. If an infection of the disc occurs, you will usually be very sick and require antibiotics. Hospitalization and I.V. antibiotics may be necessary. You will be given I.V. antibiotics before the procedure and the procedure is done under a full surgical scrub and drape to minimize the risk of infection.

The most serious side effects from intravenous sedation is sudden death, brain damage from low blood pressure, or allergy from the medication. These are extremely rare and have never happened in my practice. A nurse will be monitoring your blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and heart rate. If necessary, oxygen will be administered through a tube inserted in your nose. These risks can be avoided by not getting sedation.

You may have an allergic reaction to any of the medications used. If you have a known allergy to any medication, especially x-ray contrast dye or local anesthetics, notify our staff before the procedure takes place.

Are you suffering from degenerative disc disease? Stem cell injections may be a treatment option for you. Call PM&R Associates for more information today!