As we age, the discs in the spine experience normal wear and tear that can ultimately lead to degenerative disc disease (a term used to describe the broad effects of disc deterioration). A herniated disc is one common effect of degenerative disc disease, which sometimes develops as a result of an injury or genetic predisposition, but most often occurs as a result of the natural decay process.
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Until recently, there was not a treatment option with the potential to actually address normal disc decay; doctors mostly treated disc disease symptoms by administering physical therapy, medication, and/or surgical intervention to remedy any associated back pain. However, research now suggests that stem cell therapy offers a minimally invasive treatment option for many disc problems by generating new cell growth and potent natural anti-inflammatories to potentially repair the damaged disc and relieve pain. Take a look at how using stem cell therapy for a herniated disc works:
What is a Herniated Disc?
Spinal discs rest between the vertebrae, the bones that support the back. Each disc (we have 23 of them) is made up of a hardened outer layer that covers a gel-like center and serves to cushion the vertebrae and hold them together. This acts to safeguard the spinal cord and allows people to twist, turn, and bend. If a tear occurs in the outer portion of the disc (annulus), the inner nucleus pulposus can seep through. This is called a herniated disc. Pain can result from the tear in the annular fibers and if the protruding inner portion of the disc is chemically irritated, or it pushes onto surrounding nerves.
How Can You Use Stem Cell Therapy for a Herniated Disc?
Stem cells are the body’s original building blocks. They are special cells that can give rise to other types of cells, no matter their origination. Embryos contain stem cells, which direct development in utero. However, adults also have stem cells that can be used for repair; these are the adult stem cells harvested for regenerative stem cell therapies. These cells are much more limited in the types of cells they can become.
Adult stem cells can differentiate into cells that can repair an abundance of different soft tissues or bones. More importantly, the stem cells can signal additional stem cells and growth factors to the site of injury, thus leading to decreased inflammation, reduced pain, and tissue repair. This is especially important for regenerative purposes, because it allows tissue repair even in situations where the original cellular material has been lost or damaged and/or a blood supply limits vital nutrient access to a damaged area.
In the case of a herniated disc, stem cells can be harvested from other areas of a patient’s body (usually bone marrow and adipose tissue), combined with platelet-rich plasma, and then injected into a herniated disc with the expectation that the mesenchymal stem cells (from the fat tissue and bone marrow) will give rise to the type of cellular material needed to repair the disc’s outer and inner layers. On its own, the avascular disc has little access to the blood-borne nutrients needed for regeneration and restoration when it becomes damaged. But by injecting stem cells directly into the disc, this deficit is negated, and the stem cells can inspire tissue repair, decrease inflammation, and recruit additional stem cells.
Ready to Learn More?
Using stem cells for herniated discs is a minimally invasive treatment option that works for many patients. If you’d like to discuss your medical history and symptoms to find out if stem cell therapy could be an option for you, please contact our office. ThriveMD’s medical director, Dr. Scott Brandt, has over three decades of experience and is one of the nation’s leading experts in regenerative medicine and interventional pain management. He will review your case and help you determine the best treatment option possible.