About 80 percent of Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their lives.
It’s the second most common reason people visit their doctors. Often, these patients have torn or ruptured discs that cause excruciating pain. But there’s a new option on the horizon that could regrow healthy discs in the spine without surgery.
Rebecca Tirs spends most days curled up in bed with her pal, Jenny Bee. But this isn’t how life has always been for these two.
Ten years ago, Tirs was an active 28-year-old. But then she was in a rollover car accident, where she tore two discs in her low back.
“I had a mild traumatic brain injury. I had a fractured pelvis. I had fractured scapula, fractured ribs,” she said.
Tirs can barely walk. She had to quit work and give up all her favorite activities.
“It was just constant, deep down to the bone, severe pain,” Tirs said. “I cried all the time.”
Dr. Michael DePalma is working on a new way to heal injured backs. As part of a clinical trial, he injects growth factors, found naturally in the body, into damaged discs.
“The growth factors are that, they stimulate growth of certain tissue,” said DePalma, the medical director at the VCU Spine Center in Richmond, Va.
The injection includes a growth factor called OP1, a key ingredient in the development of bone and tissue. In animals, the shot helped damaged discs grow back. Doctors say in humans, it could mean no surgery, no damage to surrounding tissue and little downtime.
“This sort of treatment may find its role in treating the disc before they get to a point beyond which only surgery is going to help,” DePalma said.
Tirs doesn’t know if she received a placebo or the real injection, but she noticed a slight improvement in her pain level.
“Instead of maybe an eight or a nine, I was a seven,” she said.