Lower Back Stem Cell Treatment: Top 5 Things to Know

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In the last few years, there’s been an explosion in chiropractic and other clinics offering lower back stem cell treatments. The big problem, however, is that while some of these stem cell treatments are real, the vast majority are fake or just poorly done. As the first physician in the world to perform lower back stem cell injections (i.e., spinal injections), way back in 2005, I see a few physicians trying hard to do good work and most physicians (and now chiropractors) who are either not maximizing patient results or are just outright scamming patients. In essence, they’re offering a copy of a copy of a copy such that what’s delivered bears little resemblance to what, based on my extensive experience, I know works.

To help you determine if the treatment being offered is the real deal or if you need to run right out of the front door of the office and never look back, I’ve put together this top 5 list of things to know about lower back stem cell treatment (the same applies to neck stem cell treatments as well).

1. The Amniotic and Cord Bait and Switch

If the clinic is offering amniotic or cord “stem cell” treatments, this is an easy one—it’s a scam! Why? First and foremost, these amniotic and cord products contain no live or functional stem cells, only dead ones. Testing of multiple amniotic stem cell products by the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation has confirmed this. Additionally, unlike bone marrow stem cells, there is no research supporting cord or amniotic stem cells for musculoskeletal conditions, such as knee or spine issues. If you are considering stem cells for a musculoskeletal problem, first, do your research and make sure the cells being injected are alive and, second, ask for published clinical research on your problem with the exact product being used on you. Given that none exists in amniotic or cord blood stem cells for any spine injection, if they hand you research, look closely, as it likely has nothing to do with what’s wrong with you.

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2. Quickie Bone Marrow Procedures

If the clinic is using a “quickie” bone marrow procedure, based on the spine stem cell research we have to date, this will likely reduce your chances of success. What is a quickie bone marrow procedure? This is where the provider uses a uses a specific trocar-type of device—such as this Marrow Cellutions device—that manufacturers claim allows providers to immediately reinject the bone marrow without having to centrifuge it to concentrate the stem cells. We’ve tested these very expensive quickie devices and found them to be no better than a standard trocar at harvesting bone marrow. Additionally, taking out the step of concentrating stem cells, dramatically lowers the stem cell count that is reinjected, and this may affect whether or not you even respond to treatment. For example, we know that for a low back disc procedure to work, you need a higher number of stem cells than these devices can procedure (based on our testing).

3. Blind Trigger Point Injection with “Stem Cells”

There’s a stark difference between an advanced image-guided lower back stem cell injection with fluoroscopy and a blind (or without image guidance), in-office trigger-point injection. A trigger point is a spot in the muscle that is in spasm and can no longer contract. These trigger points are caused by a problem with the nerves that feed the affected muscle. If you use fluoroscopy (image guidance), you can address the deep spinal issues in the nerves, discs, and facet joints. The problem is, what you are more likely to experience with chiropractors and other providers who are performing these much less sophisticated lower back stem cell injections is a blind muscle trigger point injection, so it’s less likely to address your problem. In other words, with just blind injections that only make it into the muscle, the real cause of the problem (e.g., the discs, facet joints, or nerves) isn’t being addressed. So unless the provider has both ultrasound and fluoroscopy available and uses them for every injection, then run.

4. The “I Will Grow Your Collapsed Disc” Scam

No lower back stem cell treatment, regardless of stem cell source, will regrow you a new disc if you have an advanced degenerative disc disease (a collapsed bone-on-bone disc). Stem cells simply can’t magically regrow a disc in humans (although this works pretty well in rabbits). If a clinic is promising they can regrow you a brand-new disc with stem cell injections, this isn’t just a red flag—it’s false information, and you need to seek elsewhere for a legitimate stem cell provider.

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5. Why Inject the Disc?

Depending on your condition, lower back stem cell injections in the disc may not always be the best solution. The clinic you choose should be sophisticated enough to be able to perform an image-guided epidural injection with platelet lysate if this will sufficiently address your lower back issue. What is platelet lysate (PL)? It’s the growth factors isolated from the platelets in your blood. Our experience through the last decade plus has shown us that PL is often enough by itself to help patients without injecting discs. Why avoid a disc injection? It’s more invasive than just injecting epidural. Hence while some patients do need stem cells in their discs, many do not.

The upshot? If you are considering lower back stem cell treatment, do your homework long before you walk into a stem cell clinic or one of those heavily marketed high-pressure sales events masked as a stem cell seminar. This research will not only save you time but also save you from being the next victim of a suboptimal treatment or an outright stem cell scam!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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