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What is Intradiscal Stem Cell Treatment?

Intradiscal stem cell treatment is an innovative, minimally invasive therapy that utilizes the regenerative properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to alleviate chronic back pain related to spinal disc degeneration from overuse, trauma, or debilitating conditions such as degenerative arthritis.

Picture of Disc Injections

Mesenchymal stem cells are a type of adult stem cell that can replicate into cells that form the musculoskeletal system, such as tendons, ligaments, and articular cartilage. The unique self-regenerating and differentiating ability of mesenchymal stem cells can be used for the repair and regeneration of orthopedic tissues. These stem cells are commonly obtained from the bone marrow, usually from the iliac crest of the pelvic bone, by inserting a needle to extract the stem cells. Currently, stem cell therapy is used to treat various degenerative conditions of the shoulder, knees, hips, and spine. They are also being used in the treatment of various soft tissue (muscle, ligaments, and tendons) as well as bone-related injuries.

Intradiscal stem cell treatment, such as intradiscal stem cell injections involves extracting stem cells from a patient's bone marrow or adipose tissue and injecting them into the affected area in the back (spine). This process promotes the body's natural healing process, promoting disc regeneration and pain relief. Intradiscal injection refers to the administration or injection of medicine into the spinal disc (spongy cushion that separates the bones of the spine or vertebrae. The vertebrae and discs form the spinal column from the neck to the pelvis, giving symmetry and support to the body. By targeting the root cause of pain, such as herniated discs or degenerative disc disease, intradiscal stem cell treatment stimulates tissue repair, reduces inflammation, and restores disc function.

Indications for Intradiscal Stem Cell Treatment

Your physician may recommend intradiscal stem cell treatment if traditional treatments such as pain relief medications, physical therapy, or surgery have failed to provide relief from back pain caused by degenerative disc disease.

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of back pain, affecting in particular the lumbar spine (low back). Degenerative disc disease (DDD) refers to the gradual deterioration of the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae. The condition affects the strength, resilience, and structural integrity of the intervertebral discs due to advancing age, trauma, injury, repetitive movement, improper posture, or poor body mechanics. DDD is commonly seen in individuals over 50 years of age.

Preparation for Intradiscal Stem Cell Treatment

Pre-procedure preparation for intradiscal stem cell treatment may involve the following:

  • Your doctor will review your medical history thoroughly before the procedure.
  • You must inform your doctor about any health conditions you have such as diabetes or bleeding disorders.
  • You should inform your doctor about any medications you may be taking such as blood thinners, over-the-counter medications, or supplements.
  • You may be asked to stop taking certain medicines several days prior to the procedure.
  • You should not consume any food or drink several hours prior to the procedure.
  • A written consent will be obtained from you after the procedure has been explained in detail.

Procedure for Intradiscal Stem Cell Treatment

The procedure begins with your doctor extracting stem cells from your own bone marrow. Bone marrow is usually aspirated from your hip region. Your doctor will first clean and numb your hip area. A needle is then introduced into an area of your pelvic bone known as the iliac crest. Bone marrow is then aspirated using a special syringe and the sample obtained is sent to the laboratory. In the laboratory, the aspirate is spun in a machine for 10 to 15 minutes and a concentrated stem cell sample is separated.

Your doctor then cleans and numbs the affected spinal area to be treated and then real-time X-ray technology known as fluoroscopy is used to correctly inject the concentrated stem cells into the degenerated or damaged spinal disc. The mesenchymal stem cells used in the treatment have the ability to:

  • Develop into the type of cell required to repair the disc
  • Self-renew once injected, so they keep working to heal
  • Decrease pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory on damaged tissue

The whole procedure usually takes less than one hour and you may return home on the same day of the procedure. Intradiscal stem cell treatment is the first therapy for back pain that not only relieves pain but also assists the damaged tissue to rebuild itself.

Post-Procedure Care and Recovery

After the procedure:

  • You will be transferred to the recovery area for observation and discharged shortly thereafter.
  • You will be able to walk around immediately following the procedure and can resume all your normal activities the following day.
  • You will receive instructions on managing pain and soreness around the injection site with medications and application of ice packs.
  • You will need to take it easy and avoid any load-bearing activities for at least two weeks following your procedure.
  • You will need to refrain from taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) for a while as this can affect the healing process of your body.
  • A follow-up appointment will be scheduled to monitor your progress.

Risks and Complications

Intradiscal stem cell treatments are relatively safe; however, as with any procedure, there are risks and complications that may occur, including:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Nerve injury
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Allergic reaction