Today’s Solutions: December 08, 2023

Degenerative disk disease affects around 40 percent of the population over the age of 40, and those who live with the agony of the chronic ailment understand how persistent and difficult it is to treat. However, positive results from a three-year trial point to a new, long-term approach to treating a problem that is presently only treated with physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory medicines, corticosteroid injections, or, in the most severe cases, surgery.

“Existing treatment for chronic low back pain due to degenerative disk disease is often ineffective or the effects are short-lived,” said Dr. Douglas Beall, lead author and chief of radiology at Clinical Radiology of Oklahoma.

What is degenerative disk disease?

The intervertebral disks that cushion the spine and allow for flexibility and movement begin to degrade in degenerative disk disease (DDD), deteriorating over time and causing varied degrees of discomfort and mobility difficulties. 

How does Dr. Beall’s novel treatment work?

Dr. Beall and his team’s novel treatment involves injecting specialized cells into the damaged intervertebral disk to help existing cells to build healthy tissue.

During the three-year research trial, 46 chronic back pain patients were given the viable disk allograft supplementation and their pain levels were tracked over time. After pain levels were assessed using a visual analog scale and functionality was measured using the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), 60 percent of patients reported a more than 50 percent improvement in their condition, and 70 percent of recipients reported a more than a 20-point change in their ODI scores. This moves them from severe or moderate disability to mild, or better.

The treatment group was representative of the type of people seen seeking medical assistance for their DDD and ranged in age (19-73), gender, race, BMI, and smoking status.

“The significant improvement in pain and function is promising for patients living with chronic low back pain – a condition that can greatly impact a person’s quality of life,” said Dr. Beall.

Short-term treatment, long-term benefits

While targeted injections have been studied for several years, this 36-month trial demonstrates that allogenic treatment provides long-term mobility benefits and pain alleviation from a single and minimally invasive surgery that could be completed in one day.

“This treatment may help patients return to a normal activity level for a longer period of time,” said Dr. Beall. “We need better treatments for this condition since conservative care is not providing the long-term outcomes that patients deserve. Injectable allograft treatment might be the answer for many people.”

The study also looks at the consequences of chronic lower back pain, such as the economic impact of job absence and the fact that it accounts for half of all opioid prescriptions.

The findings will be presented this week at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s Annual Scientific Conference in Phoenix.

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