Intercostal injections of stem cells

Stem cells are near the forefront of regenerative medicine therapies. This treatment can be used throughout the body to treat a variety of different ailments. One of the most popular uses for stem cell injections is to alleviate back and spinal disc pain. While this therapy has been shown to be very effective for many different issues, the specific placement of the injections is critical to its success rate. Intercostal injections are commonly used by physicians, but this placement is highly ineffective as a way to treat spinal pain.

What are Intercostal Injections?

Each of the ribs in your upper body is connected to costal cartilage, which connects the rib to the sternum. The spaces between each of the ribs are known as the intercostal space, and it allows an opening for muscles and nerves to sit between the bones.

graph explaining the place of intercostal muscles

The intercostal nerves are responsible for innervating the chest, and they report pain and other signals back to the brain. The intercostal muscles sit between the ribs and are responsible for chest movements, including breathing and shrinking and expanding the chest cavity.

Intercostal stem cell injections are placed between the ribs from the back in a location directly to the side or in front of the spine. The intercostal spaces allow a physician to insert the needle closer to the spine without having to go directly into the bone.

Why are these Injections Ineffective?

These stem cell injections place the stem cells in the area directly surrounding the damaged tissues. In theory, these cells would then be able to migrate into the affected or degenerating tissues to stimulate the healing process. However, the exact placement of the cells is critical to the success rate of the treatment.

Studies have shown that in order to maximize results, spinal injections should be placed directly into the damaged tissues of the spine. Otherwise, there is too much migration of the injected cells, and their concentration is diluted too much to maintain their effectiveness. Disc degeneration and disc herniation are two of the most common spinal injuries, and intercostal stem cell injections do not provide a feasible solution for these problems.

Disc Degeneration

Disc degeneration occurs when the outer wall of the spinal disc, the annulus fibrosis, begins to break down over time. This outer portion of the disc is rigid and is responsible for holding in the inner layer of the disc, the nucleus pulposus, which is jelly-like and helps to withstand various forces. A strong disc helps the spine to tolerate bending, twisting, and compressive forces.

disc explaining how an annular tears affects backpain

Over time, the discs in the spine can begin to wear down and degenerate. This can cause cracks in the outer layer of the disc, allowing some of the liquid inside layer to leak out. This can reduce the height of your spinal discs, making them less effective at tolerating movements.

Stem cell injections have been shown to be quite effective at healing disc degeneration and improving spinal function, but these cells must be injected directly into the spinal discs to elicit the desired effects. This insertion method allows the cells to plug the holes and cracks that have formed. If the cells are delivered through the intercostal spaces, it is difficult for them to migrate into the spinal discs.

Disc Herniation

Disc herniation occurs when some of the inner layers push through a crack in the spinal disc and leaks out. This can cause pain and swelling around the spine and may result in pinched nerves as well. Stem cells can help the spine regain its integrity, preventing further protrusion from the spinal disc.

Similarly to treating disc degeneration, stem cell injections should be placed directly into the damaged disc to maximize results. This makes intercostal injections far less effective and will not lead to the desired results. Researchers have found that injections into the spinal disc itself recruited additional healing cells 100 percent better than intercostal, non-guided injections.

What are the Costs of Intercostal Injections?

Not only are intercostal injections not very effective, but they can also prove to be very costly as well. These injections can cost a significant amount of money, well upwards of a thousand dollars, and they are not covered by the large majority of insurances. This means that all of the associated costs must be paid for out of pocket.

Stem cell injections have proven to be an effective, non-invasive regenerative medicine treatment for a variety of injuries, including those related to the spine. However, the placement of these cells is critical to the treatment’s success, and intercostal placements do not carry a high success rate. Due to the ineffectiveness and high out-of-pocket costs associated with intercostal injections, they should be avoided, and a more effective treatment option should be pursued to address spinal health and reduce the associated pain.

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