You have probably never heard of The Orthobiologic Institute (TOBI) or the PRP Regenerative Medicine Symposium. But what was presented and discussed there promises good news for anyone who suffers from a serious or chronic back pain.

I attended the 5th annual PRP Regenerative Medicine Symposium this summer in Las Vegas, a two-day meeting of the minds of many of the top physiatrists in the world, put on by TOBI. TOBI was established by Dr. Steven Sampson, one of the first physicians in the nation to use Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections as a means of promoting healing of damaged muscles and ligaments.

Many of the world’s leaders in regenerative injection therapy attend and edify audiences about cutting-edge medicine.  Sports medicine physicians, orthopedists, rheumatologists and physiatrists are among the medical experts who come to learn about new techniques to care for patients.

PRP injections are being used to treat injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, hip, knee, ankle and foot. One part of the body where PRP injections may soon be used to help promote healing is one of the most difficult to return to full recovery – the spine.

Serious back injury often requires surgery. Some common reasons for back surgery include disc herniation (ruptured or slipped discs, the rubbery cushions between vertebrae); spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal); and degenerative disc disease (the progressive deterioration of discs). All of these conditions result in fairly constant, sometimes crippling pain.

Ask any orthopedic surgeon and they will tell you that back surgery often involves taking out broken pieces of discs, which may help relieve pain but further weakens the spinal column. The most common risk is that the surgery simply won’t do what it’s supposed to do – significantly relieve back pain. In most cases, a strong, functioning spinal column is not possible following back surgery.

But that may change thanks to a non-surgical technique being pioneered by Dr. Gregory Lutz, Associate Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell and Physiatrist-in-Chief Emeritus for Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Dr. Lutz is pushing for a double-blind study investigating whether PRP injections can help repair damaged discs and relieve back pain. The nature of a double-blind study involves some patients who receive actual PRP injections and others who receive a placebo.

In his presentation “Intradiscal PRP: A Prospective Double Blind Randomized Controlled Trial,” Dr. Lutz made a compelling case for why PRP injections should work. PRP injections involve taking a patient’s own blood, and placing it into a centrifuge to separate the plasma-rich platelets and then injecting those platelets into the damaged tissue.

The goal is for the PRP injections to do what they have been shown to do in my practice – stimulate healing and often regenerate growth of healthy tissue to replace damaged tissue.  In the case of PRP injections into the back, the damaged disc should regenerate and grow healthy cartilage, stabilizing the spine and relieving back pain.

This double-blind study could add to the growing body of evidence about the effectiveness of PRP injections, which could lead to many more practitioners adopting it as a means of pain management and orthopedic rehabilitation.

The symposium reminded me why my medical specialty is THE place to be for someone who wants to be a healer of the body. It’s an exciting time for physiatry, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

Dr. Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at