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Back Pain Health Center

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Stem Cells to Relieve Low Back Pain?

Early study says maybe, but experts say much more research on treatment is needed


Of the 24 patients who initially received the bone marrow injections, half went on to have other procedures over the next 30 months, making it impossible to know what might have affected their back pain.

Of the 12 who had no other kinds of treatment, 10 reported that their pain lessened in the two to four months after their injections. After a year, eight patients were still reporting significant pain relief, while three said their back pain had not improved. One patient had not yet reached the 12-month mark. After two years, five said their back pain was better, and three had no improvement. For the other four, it was still too early to tell.

Meyer said none of the 24 patients who tried the technique had complications from their procedures, but injections always carry the risk of infection.

The study was scheduled for Thursday presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Studies presented at scientific conferences usually haven't been scrutinized by independent experts, and their results are considered preliminary.

An expert who was not involved in the study said people with back pain shouldn't get too excited about these results, particularly since there was no control group used for comparison.

"Low back pain often gets better over time," said Dr. Richard Deyo, a professor of evidence-based medicine and a back pain expert at Oregon Health and Sciences University, in Portland. "Even patients who have chronic pain, their symptoms tend to wax and wane and fluctuate. They seek care when their symptoms are worst, and very often they drift back to their average level of pain, which looks like improvement."

"People grasp at straws, and they shouldn't. We have a long history of treatments that look promising when they start and turn out to be no more effective than placebo interventions," said Deyo, who also is deputy editor of the journal Spine. "We also have a history of treatments that, in some cases, turned out to be harmful. It's really too early to know if this is going to be effective or safe."

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