What We Can Learn About Back Pain From Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr is a basketball legend. He played for the Bulls, Spurs, and Trailblazers and still holds the highest career three-point percentage for any player with at least 250 three pointers made in NBA history. Just two years ago, he broke the record for most regular season wins for a rookie coach and went on to become the first rookie coach to win a championship since 1982.


It looked like his star would continue rising, but that was before Kerr’s back problems came to light. Though it is difficult to find any specific information about the initial cause of his back pain, he has pointed to a complication of spinal surgery as the culprit for his ongoing headaches and mobility issues. In interviews, Kerr has said that the dura tissue in his spine was nicked, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to escape. He underwent a second surgery to repair the tear in September of 2015 but has said that his symptoms did not improve. A recent article about his plight is entitled, “Steve Kerr is imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body,” and speaks for itself.


In most cases of damaged dura and lost cerebrospinal fluid, people experience temporary but often blinding headaches, nausea, dizziness, and nerve pain. These symptoms are caused by the change in pressure experienced by the brain and entire central nervous system, but this pressure can be restored by the body without further intervention in a matter of days. If symptoms persist beyond that time, doctors may choose to do a second procedure, injecting blood into the site of damage to help restore balance to the system.

Now, if you’re thinking these complications sound a little scary, you’re not alone. Your spine and brain are the central hub for the control panel to your entire body. When something goes wrong with them and requires intervention, you should always proceed with caution and definitely get a second opinion. There are thousands of qualified spinal surgeons in this country who perform operations like the one Kerr received all the time, but cases like his do occasionally happen. So it’s wise to always make sure you know your options before letting even the best surgeon poke around in your spine.


We don’t know exactly what happened that convinced Steve Kerr to move forward with surgery in the first place, but we do know the most common reason we see patients complaining of intractable back pain: degenerative disc disease. Don’t freak out just yet, but this is actually a problem that most of us will have at some point in our lives. The cartilaginous tissue in between the bones in your spine (the discs!) has a tough job supporting your body and protecting your central nervous system from physical damage. It relies on water to help do this demanding job, but as we age, our discs lose water. This makes their job tougher and can result in breakdown of disc tissue. As that process continues, our discs become thinner, which can put pressure on spinal nerves, causing numbness, tingling, lightning strikes, and any number of other nerve pain symptoms. For some people, these symptoms can be life altering and will drive them to seek surgical treatment, like Steve Kerr did.


One of the treatments we are proud to offer at BennuLife is a cell based alternative to the type of spine surgery that is most often provided for patients with pain caused by degenerative disc disease. Instead of performing an open surgery, our doctors will use a small amount of the patient’s own bone marrow, which contains mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells are the body’s natural resource for generating new cartilage, bone, and other connective tissues. Since they exist in the adult human body, they are programmed to respond to the mechanical and molecular signals present in the adult human body, like those found in disc tissue. Our registered nurses take this bone marrow aspirate, concentrate it to get the right number of mesenchymal stem cells in a very small volume, and then return it to the doctor. The doctor then places that concentrated bone marrow in the painful disc. In our own experience and that of published clinical studies, patients achieve an average of about 70% pain relief from this quick procedure, and most maintain that level of pain relief for at least two years. The whole procedure takes less than an hour and really amounts to capturing your body’s natural resource for cartilage repair from a location in which we know it is concentrated and transferring it to a location where you are experiencing pain as a result of a depletion of that natural resource.


Surgery is a useful tool that has certainly helped the human race achieve the greatest life expectancy in documented history, but it is not the only option and should only be exercised when it’s the right option. We can’t be sure if one of our therapies could have helped Steve Kerr, but we certainly hope that we can help other patients avoid any similar situation. So if you or a loved one is thinking about surgery of any kind, please consult with multiple medical professionals and make sure you know your options, especially if any of them are minimally invasive, regenerative options based upon your own body and cells. And if you’re not sure about your options, leave us a comment or drop us a line in the contact form! We love to hear from y’all, and are thrilled when we can write a whole post answering your questions.

4 Comments. Leave new

  • After numerous surgeries & injections to my lumbar spine I’ve been lab labeled with “failed back syndrome”. Would stem cell therapy be an option for me?

    • Susan Scambray
      April 24, 2018 3:06 PM

      Joel – I am sorry to hear that you have not had any success treating your back pain. It is difficult to know if stem cells would be a successful treatment for you without more history and seeing an MRI. Our orthopedist, Dr. Spann, is always happy to evaluate your MRI, if you have recent image. We can talk more about it over the phone, or if you are local, you are welcome to come in for a free consultation.

  • Sherley schooler
    May 1, 2018 11:24 PM

    I have narrowing at my C6 I have a fusion for my tutu to C7 I also have a T8 laminectomy and I have horrible lower lumbar pain I’ve had injections and they burn nerves twice and it came back I’m 70 years old and in good health other than my spine and my right hip the muscle got ripped off when I was in a motorcycle wreck in 2014 and they didn’t find it till it was too late to fix it so I have multiple things going on I just don’t know if I can afford to get it all fixed

    • Susan Scambray
      May 2, 2018 10:59 AM

      Hi Sherley, I am sorry to hear about your situation – it sounds like you have multiple things contributing to your pain. Stem cells might be an option to eliminate some of your pain. Unfortunately, stem cells are not yet covered by insurance. However, our doctors feel that stem cells often end up being much less expensive than ultimate surgery or a lifetime of steroid injections. We would be happy to answer more of your questions to determine if you are a candidate. You can call our office at 512-213-1668.


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