Suffering from low back pain is arguably one of the true shared human experiences; estimates place the percentage of adults who experience low back pain at some point in their lives at over 80%! Low back pain also has a very real cost to society, as it is the number one driver of missed workdays and–while the statistic is not directly tracked–can also be assumed to interrupt a great deal of sufferers’ personal lives, forcing them to skip social events, family gatherings, and forego their chosen hobbies.
Low back pain can be broken out into three categories based on the level of pervasiveness: 1) acute back pain, which has a sudden onset but does not last more than a few weeks; 2) subacute back pain, which lingers for up to three months; and 3) chronic back pain, which lingers for months or years after onset. While acute back pain is generally mechanical in nature–think pulled muscles and strained ligaments–and will resolve on its own, once the pain inches into subacute or chronic territory, it is unlikely to resolve without medical intervention.
Unfortunately, at RestorePDX we believe that the standard of care in treating subacute and chronic back pain is lacking. As it stands today, first-line treatments for low back pain include steroid injections at the site of inflammation or damage; conservative measures like physical therapy or narcotics; and, if all else fails, invasive single- or multi-level fusion surgeries that serve to stabilize the vertebrae and prevent the movement that causes pain and damage. Unfortunately, the surgeries that so many patients feel are their only option can actually cause severe damage to vertebral levels above and below the fusion in as little as five years. This phenomenon is known as Next Level Syndrome and is caused by the transfer of stress and movement from the fused vertebrae to the levels above and below.
However, at RestorePDX we are leading the charge to evolve the existing standard of care for low back pain with the use of regenerative medicine, an umbrella term for the nascent set of treatment modalities that seek to harness the body’s natural ability to heal itself in the management of orthopedic conditions.
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy
One of the most common regenerative medicine treatment modalities in use today is platelet-rich plasma therapy, a procedure wherein a patient’s own blood is extracted, refined through a centrifugation process, and injected under imaging guidance back into the body at the site of injury. The process of “spinning down” the blood in a centrifuge separates the blood into three component parts: plasma, which contains a high concentration of growth factors that are known to drive the body’s healing process and promote recovery; red blood cells; and a “buffy coat” of other cellular components, where additional platelets concentrate. However, it’s not as simple as separating the blood’s component parts and injecting them into the spine; each procedure needs to be finely calibrated to the precise injury and/or condition from which a patient is suffering. PRP is therefore far from a one-size-fits-all treatment; it requires a trained, experienced physician to determine the exact mix of Precision Biologics necessary to treat a given low back injury.
Another exciting opportunity for the treatment of low back pain in the world of regenerative medicine is stem cell therapy. Cell therapy is a more powerful, albeit also more invasive, therapy in the regenerative medicine tool chest. The current standard of care favors the use of autologous (the patient’s own) cells for these treatments, and whether extracted from adipose (fat) tissue or bone marrow, stem cell therapies can reduce or eliminate pain by harnessing the power of the body’s adult stem cells to promote healing and recovery. The entire process of harvesting, preparing, and re-injecting a stem cell mixture can take as little as half of an hour with minimal pain and very little recovery time–especially when compared to more invasive multi-level fusion surgery!
Regenerative medicine procedures like PRP and stem cell therapy offer an exciting glimpse into the future of low back pain management. If you are suffering from low back pain and believe you might benefit from one of these exciting new procedures, please reach out to our office today!