Two recent studies have been published evaluating treatment options for degenerative disc disease. Discogenic low back pain is one of the most common conditions I treat. Almost half the patients who come to see me have symptoms including aching back, occasional radiating pain into the legs which often waxes and wanes or moves back and forth from leg to leg and pain in the back with prolonged sitting or standing, It is one of the hardest conditions to treat. Surgery doesn’t work well, conventional injections don’t work well and medications generally don’t work well. The pain can be very debilitating.
Stem cells are showing promise in relieving this pain. One study demonstrated that stem cells from human umbilical cord blood will start building collagen within the disc of a rabbit. Collagen is the primary material that makes up the disc and it is thought that the breakdown of collagen within the disc is responsible for the development of pain. By demonstrating that it is possible to heal collagen, there is hope that we may be able to some day restore the native disc to normal function and take away the pain. The other study demonstrates that injecting bone marrow, which is a rich source of stem cells, into the disc will ease pain in some patients. This pain relief can last longer than a year, at least in this pilot group. While neither of these two studies is conclusive, it is the best hope I have seen for treating discogenic pain in a long time.