Pain is a major cause for disability, and approximately 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain around the world. Unfortunately, many of the interventions that are used to treat pain suffer from significant weaknesses. Some therapies, for instance, are not especially successful at overcoming pain, especially in all people or over a long period of time. Similarly, many drugs suffer from safety limitations, leading to adverse side effects. Today, a major risk in pain management is the potential for opioid addiction, which leaves many physicians and patients looking for non-pharmacological options to deal with pain.
Luckily, new and innovative stem cell therapies are providing a new way to address common chronic pain syndromes including neuropathy and degenerative joint disease. Stem cells have also been shown to promise for pain relief associated with conditions like cartilage defects, bone defects, tendon injuries, ligament injuries, nerve damage, and arthritis. This type of treatment works by delivering new cells to damaged or diseased tissue so that these new cells can help regenerate healthy tissue and overcome pain.
Stem cells work to fight pain in two ways: first they can act to replace injured or dead cells that underlie a patient’s pain. Second, they can deliver specific molecules that promote growth and bolster the health of the surrounding tissue. What makes these cells potentially more valuable than several conventional and alternative therapies for pain is that their use affects not only the symptoms of pain but also the underlying cause. Stem cells may therefore have the potential to provide more comprehensive and long-term relief to patients enduring pain.
Research into the use of stem cells to treat pain is abundant and ongoing. So far, scientists have found that stem cells from bone marrow, fat tissue, skeletal muscle, and umbilical cord blood to help in treating pain. The best cells tend to be ones that can differentiate into any type of cell and that does not lead to harmful immune reactions.
More clinical studies are needed to more fully develop our understanding of how stem cells can be used to treat pain. As more data are collected, scientists and physicians will be better able to develop specific strategies to help patients address their unique experiences with pain.