Degenerative changes within the spine refer to the loss of intervertebral disc form and/or function. Nearly all people over the age of 40 show some level of spine degeneration, with some, but not all, disc deterioration resulting in associated back pain.
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Why Spine Degeneration Can Hurt
Our spines are each composed of individual bones called vertebrae, the majority of which are separated by intervertebral discs. These discs act as shock absorbers, helping to keep our vertebrae from rubbing against each other and enabling our bodies to remain pliant while still withstanding 3-D motion.
As we age, however, our discs deteriorate. The inner portion of our discs — the gel-like nucleus pulposus — starts to dehydrate, condensing each disc’s volume and causing it to provide less structure and stability to the spinal column as a whole. Ultimately, a disc can degenerate to a point where its outer layer or annulus tears and/or the contents of the nucleus pulposus leak out (disc herniation). The area of annular tearing can lead to ingrowth of small pain fibers further increasing the patient’s pain. When this occurs, the surrounding vertebrae can shift, slipping out of alignment or rubbing against other vertebrae and causing inflammation and pain as they compress nerves and alter our posture and gait.
Using Stem Cell Therapy for Spine Degeneration
Stem cells are cells that can give rise to different types of cells regardless of their origin (i.e., they can differentiate into heart cells or nerve cells or skin cells even when they don’t originate in heart or nerve or skin tissue). They also can self replicate but maybe more importantly, these cells dramatically signal the body to send growth factors and additional cells to the site of injury. The cells can also provide a powerful anti-inflammatory source which can lead to significant pain reduction in addition to furthering the healing mechanism. Because of these qualities, stem cells have the potential to facilitate cellular growth and repair and are an excellent treatment option for spine pain and degeneration.
Here at ThriveMD, we harvest stem cells from a patient’s own adipose and bone marrow sources and combine them with platelet-rich plasma to create an aspirate that is then injected into damaged tissue using live x-ray or ultrasound guidance. We believe the benefit of using stem cells for spine degeneration is multifold:
- First, spinal discs have a limited blood supply and, thus, do not have easy access to the biomaterials needed for regeneration and repair should they become damaged. When stem cells are introduced into a damaged disc area, however, the body has the potential to overcome its own limitations — naturally — building new disc tissue by massively signaling the body’s repair mechanism to recruit large volumes of cells capable of repair. In this way, stem cell therapy, unlike all other traditional treatments, has the capacity to actually treat disc degeneration, not just relieve its effects! In addition, the anti-inflammatory effect can persist for many months while the tissue is being repaired.
- The process requires not only an experienced stem cell physician but also a very skilled spinal injectionist. Recovery from stem cell therapy for spine degeneration is significantly easier than recovery from traditional surgery and is less time-intensive than many physical therapy and exercise routines. Most procedures require very or no pain medication after the procedure.
- For patients wishing to avoid an invasive surgical procedure and its potential complications, a stem cell procedure is a minimally invasive approach to addressing spine pain and degeneration.
Want to Learn More?
Stem cell therapy for spine degeneration holds exciting promise for many back pain sufferers. If you would like to learn if it might be the right option for you, please contact our office. Our medical director, Dr. Scott Brandt, is board-certified with over three decades of experience. He and the rest of our staff specialize in providing innovative and lasting solutions for age-related conditions and acute or chronic pain.