Back pain could be cured by a single injection in the spine, new research suggests.
Pioneering research has found that injecting bone marrow – the flexible tissue found inside bones – into the spine can help repair the damage.
Some patients who had the treatment had their back pain cured, say the doctors at Columbia Interventional Pain Center in Missouri, who trialled it.
The treatment could offer hope to the 12 million Britons who suffer from back pain every day.
The condition affects 80 per cent of people at some point, and for many it becomes a long-term problem, costing the NHS £1.5billion a year.
The usual treatments are painkillers such as anti-inflammatories, steroid injections, physiotherapy and surgery, but many people are never completely free of pain.
It’s now hoped that the bone marrow injections could become a viable alternative treatment.
Grafts using bone marrow are increasingly used by surgeons to repair damaged tissue and, with this in mind, the Missouri researchers investigated how effective it could be for back pain.
The procedure involved injecting a concentrated form of bone marrow liquid into lumbar discs.
These are small cushions of tissue between the bones in the spine that work like shock absorbers. They are prone to wear and tear, and can slip out of place, pressing on nerves.
Doctors trialled the therapy on 22 patients who had suffered back pain for an average four years. Their disc problems were confirmed with CT and MRI scans.
The results were mixed – some patients reported complete pain relief – on average, for four years – while others saw no improvement.
Another benefit was that no patient reported a worsening of pain, and no complications occurred. Patients also reported needing less medication.
Presenting his findings at the American Academy of Pain Medicine, lead researcher Dr Donald Meyer said: ‘Our results are encouraging.
‘Currently, when conservative treatment measures fail, therapeutic options are limited for individuals with back pain due to disc degeneration. Many resort to disc surgery or spinal fusion with mediocre results.
‘Our goal is to help develop a safe, natural method to boost the body’s own capacity to heal disc pain.’
Arthritis Research UK said the study looked promising. ‘Low back pain, associated with intervertebral disc degeneration, is a painful and debilitating disorder costing the UK economy over £12billion a year,’ a spokeswoman said.
‘Although many types of surgery are available for selected patients, current treatments for low back pain remain inadequate, with patients continuing to suffer pain and immobilisation.
‘This study shows that this type of novel treatment using bone marrow grafts may be effective in certain patients.