If you read the newspaper, watch the news, or listen to the radio, stem cell therapy is likely something that you’ve heard about, but is stem cell science simply confined to the laboratory, or is it actually a phenomenon that could apply to your life and your health? If you suffer from chronic back or neck pain due to degenerative spine conditions, learning more about stem cell research and recent advances in stem cell treatments may help broaden your outlook on the types of therapies that are available to you.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are cells in the body that are not differentiated or specialized, so named because they have not yet “branched out” from their “stem” to serve a specific function within the body. They do, however, have the ability to become specialized and continue to multiply and divide indefinitely. This ability to constantly multiply means they can grow into healthy tissue that can be used to repair or replace damaged tissues in the body, such as degenerated discs, which is why stem cells are considered an important potential treatment for many different types of diseases.
But how does any of this apply to conditions of the spine? Many degenerative spine conditions, such as bulging discs and herniated discs, can cause chronic back and neck pain due to the gradual deterioration of tissues. For instance, over time the intervertebral discs of the spine lose:
- Water content
Furthermore, because these discs don’t have their own blood supply, it is virtually impossible for them to repair themselves once damage has been done. This makes them susceptible to bulging or herniation, either of which can cause back pain or neck pain.
However, stem cell therapy could offer a way to inject healthy, reparative cells into the damaged disc tissues so that the disc can regenerate. The procedure generally involves:
- Extracting healthy stem cells from bone marrow elsewhere in the body
- Minimally invasive surgical techniques
- Far less trauma and fewer risks than a highly invasive spine surgery
While stem cell therapy for neck pain or back pain could offer many patients a safe, effective alternative to open spine surgery, not all patients will be candidates for this type of minimally invasive procedure. If you’re considering any form of spine surgery, be sure to talk with a variety of spine specialists about your condition and the type of procedure that offers you the best chance for pain relief and enhanced mobility.