The spine is incredibly important to the function of all of the systems in the human body. The spine can be thought of as the central messaging system that is responsible for sending messages from the brain to the rest of the body. If the spine suffers from any type of injury, that messaging system can be disrupted. Damage to the spine can effectively cut off communication from the brain to certain parts of the body.
Spinal cord injuries can result from anything from a car accident to a slip in the shower. Each year there are between 250,00 and 500,000 spinal cord injuries around the world. The severity of each injury can vary depending on a number of factors. Some patients walk away from a spinal cord injury with just a bruised tailbone, while other patients will become disabled in some capacity.
If a patient does incur a spinal injury not only do they risk the chance of severely damaging their ability to move, but they also may suffer from chronic pain. In fact, the majority of patients with spinal cord injuries report some level of chronic pain after recovering from their injury. Additionally, patients may deal with other disorders such as phantom limb disorder, where patients still feel that they either have a lost limb or the ability to move that limb.
Chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients is an extremely difficult condition for the medical community to treat. Patients that suffer from spinal cord injuries have few options when it comes to treatments and therapies, if they work at all. The sad reality is that patients with chronic back pain are not finding relief from traditional medical treatments.
More alternative therapies and treatments are coming into the mainstream to provide pain relief to spinal cord injury patients. Stem cell therapy may provide some relief for patients that are dealing with chronic pain from a spinal cord injury. Before we discuss how stem cells could improve a patient’s condition, let's get a better understanding of what happens when a patient injures their spinal cord.
What Is A Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord that results in some loss of function, such as mobility. The damage can affect the nerves in the spinal cord or the structure of the spinal cord. Typically, a spinal cord injury occurs due to trauma, but it can also occur from infection, a tumor, loss of blood supply, or another injury.
Unlike other parts of the body, when the spinal cord becomes damaged it cannot repair itself. That is obviously a big issue due to the sheer importance of the spinal cord. Damage to the spinal cord can lead to serious issues that cannot be reversed. Cuts and wounds will heal over time, but sadly once the damage is done to the spinal cord conventional medicine does not have any ability to reverse the damage.
What Happens To The Spine When It Suffers From An Injury
When a patient suffers from a spinal cord injury there are a host of potential complications that can occur. Nerves in the spinal cord can become compressed, which can least to a host of problems in all different systems of the body. Damage to cartilage and discs can reduce flexibility and create mobility issues. Spinal cord injuries will often result in chronic pain, but there are different types of chronic pain that patients can experience. It is important that patients know the difference between the types of pain, so that they can understand
Nociceptive pain is the most common type of pain that patients with spinal cord injuries experience. This type of pain is caused by damage to non-neural tissue. When you cut your finger you experience nociceptive pain when the peripheral nerve endings or sensory receptors in your finger send pain signals to the brain.
Typically, this type of pain is the result of the initial trauma, but it can also be from muscle and joint overuse. As the body heals the tissue that was damaged, the level of nociceptive pain might subside. However, many spinal cord injury patients still report this type of pain years after the original injury.
Neuropathic pain does not usually occur immediately after a patient suffers from a spinal cord injury. This type of pain appears weeks or even years after a patient recovers from the original injury, unlike nociceptive pain. One would think that a new type of pain would not develop after recovering from the original injury.
Patients describe this type of pain as a burning or stabbing sensation. Neuropathic pain can affect the extremities, such as the fingers and toes. Researchers believe that this type of pain can develop as the result of the dysfunction of the nervous system. Even though the body is not actively experiencing pain, the brain still sends pain signals to various parts of the body.
The last type of physical pain is known as visceral pain. This type of pain is located in visceral structures, such as the thorax, abdomen, and pelvis. Patients often describe this type of pain as dull and aching. Typically, this pain is caused by other medical problems, such as kidney stones or ulcers. Spinal cord injury victims are still at risk for developing this type of pain.
Patients do not just deal with physical chronic pain, but they may have to deal with mental chronic pain as well.
When patients suffer from chronic pain due to a spinal cord injury, the pain is not the only complication they have to deal with. Patients may develop some psychology disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Constantly dealing with chronic pain can become a large burden for even the strongest person. Patients should be aware that they may be more susceptible to these conditions after suffering a spinal cord injury.
All of these complications can make treating chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients difficult. There are limited treatments and some treatments may not be that effective in addressing chronic pain. A recent study investigated the use of different treatment plans in order to address chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients. 117 patients with spinal cord injuries and chronic pain were evaluated in the study.
Current Treatment Options For Chronic Pain From Spinal Cord Injuries
Tylenol & Motrin
The medications that were tried by most of the patients were non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen. These are easy to obtain and do not require a prescription. Most patients would likely try to use one of these types of drugs before consulting a physician to see if they could manage the pain themselves.
More than half of the patients in the study were still using over the counter drugs in order to combat their chronic pain. These patients are likely dealing with their pain on a day-to-day basis and attempting to avoid more serious treatments. Additionally, these medications often have few side effects, which could be attractive to some patients.
Even though opioids have gained a negative reputation in recent years, they are effective at reducing pain levels. Opioids had the greatest impact on the level of pain that patients were experiencing. On a scale of 1 to 10, opioids provided a 6.27 level of pain relief, which was the highest average pain relief.
In the short term, opioids are a great treatment option and allow patients to go about living their daily lives with only a few minor side effects. Opioid dependency and addiction can develop in the long term as the body develops more of a resistance to the drug. Patients will need higher doses of opioids in order to achieve the same pain-relieving effect.
Surprisingly, exercise can provide some pain relief in patients with chronic pain. Strengthening the muscles around the spine may help stabilize the spinal column and correct any issues. Exercise can help flexibility and mobility in the spinal column. Additionally, the added blood flow from exercising can help repair neurons that were damaged from the original spinal cord injury.
Many patients may go to physical therapy in order to combat their condition. Exercise is also great for overall health and can help with other issues that chronic pain causes, such as depression and anxiety. Some patients may struggle to properly exercise due to their pain levels or the extent of their injury.
73% of patients had tried some type of alternative treatment, which points to the fact that conventional medical treatments were not effective enough in relieving their pain. Patients who are suffering from chronic pain are likely frustrated and unhappy with their current treatments. In order to combat their pain levels, many patients seek out alternative treatments.
Of the alternative treatments, marijuana was the most effective. It provided a mean relief score of 6.62 on a ten point scale, which is quite impressive. The chemicals in marijuana are able to create anti-inflammatory effects at the site of the injury. THC and CBD may be able to dampen the body’s response to pain. Former NFL players have discussed their marijuana use and how it lowered their pain levels during the days that they played professionally.
The issue with marijuana is that patients may have difficulty performing their daily activities, such as driving, when they use the drug. Some patients may have some moral questions about using the drug as well. The legality of marijuana also may discourage some patients from seeking out more information about the drug’s potential benefits.
Massage was also an effective alternative to conventional treatments. Patients who utilized massages had a decreased pain level of 6.05 on a ten point scale. A massage likely increases blood flow to the damaged areas, which can help relieve pain in the short term. Acupuncture was another effective alternative treatment.
Both massage and acupuncture may activate the nerves in the damaged areas, which could reduce pain levels. Massage and acupuncture pain relief lasted for multiple days in about 30% of patients who used the treatments. Some patients may not be able to afford multiple massages and acupunctures a month in order to combat their chronic pain.
The issue with all of these treatments is that they do not address the underlying issue. The damage done to the spinal cord is nearly impossible to reverse. This is exactly why researchers have been interested in studying stem cells in order to combat chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients. Stem cells have the potential to completely change how the medical community treats chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients.
Stem Cell Therapy For Chronic Pain From Spinal Cord Injuries
Stem cells have been investigated for a number of uses, including chronic pain in various diseases and conditions. The unique properties of stem cells make them a viable therapeutic candidate for patients with spinal cord injuries. Conventional medicine is now just beginning to understand the promise of stem cell therapy.
Due to the fact that the spine does not heal itself, stem cells are a perfect therapeutic candidate for spine related issues. Stem cells have the ability to differentiate into almost any cell in the body. This could potentially mean that stem cells can replace damaged cells throughout the spinal cord. For patients that have reduced cartilage in their spinal column, stem cells may be able to improve the amount of cartilage present.
Stem cells have the ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Often, patients who experience chronic pain will have high levels of inflammation. Multiple studies have showcased that stem cells can reduce inflammation through immunomodulatory capabilities. For patients who suffer from chronic inflammation and pain, an injection of stem cells may be able to reduce the level of inflammation present in the body.
Stem cell therapy has fewer side effects than some of the other treatments that were previously mentioned. Most patients who undergo stem cell therapy only complain about some irritation at the site of the injection. The body responds properly to stem cells because they are the building blocks of the body. There are a multitude of studies that confirm the safety of stem cells for the treatment of various conditions, including spinal cord injuries.
Research Pointing To Chronic Pain Relief
Researchers have been able to showcase that stem cells can be effective in treating chronic pain in a number of different conditions and diseases. More research is continuing to come out that showcases the potential of stem cells to prevent chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients.
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine were looking to evaluate the safety of stem cell therapy on patients with spinal cord injuries. Four patients who had suffered spinal injuries to the T2-T12 thoracic vertebrae were chosen for the study. Each patient was injected six times with a stem cell treatment containing 1.2 million neural cells.
Previously, this treatment was tested on the spinal cords of rats and the results were promising. The same was true in the patients that received the treatment. No complications were detected in any of the four patients, which was great news. But, there were signs of motor improvement in three of the four patients that were treated with the stem cell injection.
It is likely that stem cell therapy can reduce pain levels in patients, as well as potentially restore motor function in patients that have lost some mobility. The neurons that were destroyed from the spinal cord injury may have been restored through the implantation of new neuron cells. This allowed for the improvement in movement that the researchers noted in this study. Patients that experience chronic pain from nerve malfunction may be able to receive a neural cell transplant to improve their chronic pain levels.
The potency of the stem cells used in a therapeutic setting is another area of interest that researchers are currently working on. In certain areas of the body, stem cells can have a difficult time surviving and one of those areas may be the spinal column. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine were looking to treat chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients when they discovered something unexpected.
Unlike other stem cell therapies to treat spinal cord injuries, the researchers used a plasminogen activator called tPA on the stem cells before injecting them into the spinal cord. tPA is used in stroke patients to break up clots to allow more blood flow to the brain. Researchers used a form of tPA that had the neuron growth and anti-inflammatory properties to treat the stem cells.
15 minutes after treating the cells, they were implanted into the injured spinal cords. After two months researchers found 2.5 times more tPA treated neuron cells than typical neuron cells. The tPA treated neuron cells actually created new neurons in the spinal cord as far as four vertebrae away. It was a remarkable improvement in the spinal cord of the injured rats.
In the rats that were treated with the injection, the researchers observed a three-fold increase in motor activity just four months after the procedure. That is an incredible amount of movement regained just weeks after receiving treatment. Unfortunately, the rats do not live long enough to properly evaluate all of the effects of the stem cell therapy. But, researchers are optimistic that this type of therapy can improve motor function and reduce the level of pain a patient experiences.
Another study that is taking place in Denver, Colorado is looking to test stem cells ability to treat chronic lower back pain. That is just one of many stem cell studies that are taking place all over the world. It is promising that more and more studies are beginning to take place. The medical community clearly sees the therapeutic potential of stem cell therapy.
Patients who continue to suffer from chronic pain may want to seek out stem cell treatment in order to address their condition. BioXcellerator fully realizes just how powerful stem cell therapy is, which is why our research team has spent countless hours perfecting our processes. Many patients have visited our medical facilities in Medellin, Colombia in order to receive treatment for chronic pain. We have recently improved the way that we choose the stem cells that are used in our treatments.
Even though stem cells show incredible promise in treating chronic pain in patients with spinal cord injuries, there are some hurdles that need to be overcome. One potential issue may be the overall potency of stem cells used in therapeutic settings. There may be varying degrees of standards and regulations for the quality of stem cells used in a treatment. This could adversely affect a patient’s outcome and the level of chronic pain they experience when they receive stem cell therapy.
This could be one of the reasons that some patients report incredible results from their treatments, while others do not. The team at BioXcellerator realized that stem cell quality was a real issue and decided to address the problem. We decided to create a one-of-a-kind process that ensures that our patients receive the highest quality stem cells, which we like to call ‘golden cells.’
We based this process around the strictest standards in the world and improved upon them. Our laboratory team performs extensive testing and validation to ensure that all stem cells are free of disease and conform to the highest quality standards available. We believe that golden cells will improve patient outcomes. Our hope is that golden cells will be able to reduce the level of chronic pain in spinal cord injury patients at a much higher rate than conventional stem cell therapies.
Reach out to your healthcare provider today to learn more about alternative therapies for your chronic pain. Stem cell therapy may be an effective treatment option to reduce the level of chronic pain that you are experiencing. You can also reach out to a BioXcellerator patient advocate to learn more about all of our treatments. Our team is more than happy to review your case and recommend the best course of treatment for your unique case, even if that does not involve any of our treatments. We always work to create the best outcomes for our patients.