Chances are high that at some point in our lives we will experience back pain. Indeed, back pain is the leading cause of disability around the world with no more or less prevalence in industrialized versus developing countries. The simple fact is that humans are living longer. And living longer means our bodies have more time to deteriorate and more time to sustain injury. One specific type of back injury is an annular tear. Read on to learn about the many annular tear treatment options and how to choose the right one for you.
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But First, Let’s Talk About the Spine
The human spine (what most of us call “our back”) is the bony column that runs from the base of our skull to the top of our pelvis. It includes 33 vertebrae and a variety of muscles, nerves and other soft tissue structures that combine to protect our spinal cord and stabilize our body’s weight distribution. Of course, the spine also allows us to flex and rotate as needed.
Twenty-three discs separate the majority of the spine’s individual vertebrae; these discs are important because they absorb shock, protecting and cushioning our vertebrae against the wear and tear of daily movement. Each disc is composed of a tough outer layer — the annular fibrosus — and a gel-like center — the nucleus pulposus. The annular fibrosus’s multiple layers of collagen support the pressure of the inner nucleus, enabling the vertebrae to remain separated and mitigating the effects of any bodily impact.
As we age, the nucleus begins to deteriorate, losing water and, thus, volume. This increases the pressure on the surrounding annulus; the longer we live, the more the nucleus degrades (i.e., weakens), and the more likely it is that a disc will experience a tear in its annular wall (or other degenerative conditions) due to the natural progression of the aging process or an injury.
Treatments Options for Annular Tears
Not all annular tears are painful, but when they are, patients usually want relief. Most annular tear treatment plans begin with a physical therapy and/or exercise regime to strengthen the muscles of the spine so that they are able to mitigate the stress caused by the injured disc(s) and increase blood flow to the injured area of the back and improve healing. Should swelling or discomfort linger, anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications can be administered, but outside of these traditional treatments, there have been few alternatives other than time, steroid shots, and/or surgery to provide any further relief. The past decade, however, has produced scientific, as well as therapeutic, evidence supporting the use of stem cell injections as an annular tear treatment option.
Stem Cell Injections for Annular Tears
Choosing the right annular tear treatment is dependent on your symptoms, your desired results, and the advice of a qualified and experienced physician. If non-invasive treatment options haven’t worked for you, but you aren’t ready for more invasive measures (like surgery), you might be able to use stem cells to combat the effects of an annular tear. A stem cell injection as an annular tear treatment is a minimally-invasive procedure that can be performed in a doctor’s procedure suite in as little as two to three hours. During the treatment, stem cells and growth factors are harvested from the patient’s own body. Science indicates that these natural autologous components have the potential to facilitate the repair of damaged tissues by initiating cellular regeneration.
At ThriveMD, we take mesenchymal stem cells (usually from fat tissue in the lower abdomen and from bone marrow harvested from the iliac crest) and blood (to make platelet-rich plasma). We combine them into a concentrated aspirate which is then injected into the patient’s damaged tissue using live x-ray (fluoroscopic) or ultrasound guidance. Patients walk out of our office to recuperate at home. Patients typically can return to normal daily activities within a day or two. Intensive and impact exercise is limited for four-six weeks. Pain relief is generally experienced beginning in the first four to twelve weeks with continuing improvement over the following months.
Want More Information?
If you would like additional information about using stem cell therapy to treat back pain and annular tears, please contact our staff here at ThriveMD. Our medical director, Dr. Scott Brandt, has trained extensively across the country and is one of the nation’s top stem cell therapy doctors. He can educate you regarding your options and help you choose an annulus tear treatment that is right for you.