Jack Nicklaus Says He Had Experimental Stem Cell Treatment For His Back Pain

Nicklaus, 78, had been battling intense back pain for years before he underwent adipose-derived stem cell treatment early in 2016.

Jack Nicklaus Says He Had Experimental Stem Cell Treatment For His Back Pain
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Nicklaus, 78, had been battling intense back pain for years before he underwent adipose-derived stem cell treatment early in 2016.

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus admitted to having experimental stem cell therapy for chronic back issues, offering details in an exclusive interview about the treatment and how it helped his back pain thus far.

As recalled by CNN, which interviewed the 78-year-old Nicklaus earlier this week, the “Golden Bear” had been dealing with back problems even as a 19-year-old amateur, when he received nine cortisone injections for his back pain. After turning pro, Nicklaus continued to play in “significant” pain at certain points in his long and distinguished career. By the time he turned 64-years-old, a “minimally invasive” spine operation was mildly effective in alleviating some of the pain, but even the easiest shots proved to be “too painful” for the golfing legend in the years that followed.

Jack Nicklaus was 75 when he first met stem cell treatment pioneer Dr. Eckhard Alt at a birthday party in December 2015. After reading up on the doctor’s groundbreaking work and theorizing that he could finally get relief for his back pain through adipose stem cell treatment, he underwent surgery in February 2016 at Alt’s Isar Klinikum medical facility in Munich. CNN wrote that this procedure resulted in three ounces of fat taken from Nicklaus’ abdomen, which is where the stem cells were harvested from.

After doctors extracted the abdominal fat, it was then blended with the enzyme Matrase, which broke down the fat tissue and allowed the stem cells to be released without any changes made to them. Nicklaus’ doctors then passed the mixture down a centrifuge to get a “concentrated islet” of stem cells, which were repeatedly injected into Nicklaus’ body after a routine check to make sure the cells weren’t contaminated. According to CNN, it took only about an hour for this stage of the procedure to be completed.

Golf Digest wrote that Jack Nicklaus’ stem cell treatment involved a total of 14 injections, including 10 on both sides of his lower back, and another four in his cervical spine, or neck area. The treatment didn’t take effect immediately, as Nicklaus recalled, but it took “a few months” for the pain that he usually felt while playing golf to subside.

“I was black and blue from the middle of my chest all the way across my hip down to my groin. And it was not pretty for about [the first] 10 days,” Nicklaus told CNN.

Speaking to CNN about Jack Nicklaus’ surgery and the stem cell treatment he recommended to the sports icon, Alt said that he had run through all the possible options for Nicklaus before they agreed on the experimental procedure as the “lowest risk way” of treating the golfer’s back pain.

“For this back pain there was no other option without side effects or risks. He could have taken oral anti-inflammatory medications daily with side affects or continual cortisone injections but that would have only treated the symptoms. The other thing would be to stiffen up the back with screws and metals to stabilize but that has a high risk of complications. I would only use it for fractures and then that part of the back is not flexible any longer.”

At the moment, the adipose derived stem cell treatment technique that was used to relieve Nicklaus’ back pain is still in FDA clinical trials in the U.S. But Nicklaus seems “convinced” in the efficacy of the treatment, as CNN wrote that he was scheduled to undergo a similar procedure for his right shoulder on Saturday, but still hopeful that he could play a benefit tournament in Jupiter, Florida, on Monday.

Concluding his interview with CNN, Jack Nicklaus said that he plans to keep playing the sport that made him a legend “as long as my stem cells allow me,” as golf is “a game of a lifetime.”