Many Canadians suffer from chronic pain in their necks and lower backs that are caused by disc degeneration. The discs in the lower back and the neck may deteriorate over time or because of injuries, resulting in thousands of patients undergoing lumbar discectomies and spinal fusion surgeries each year. An alternative option other than surgery may be regenerative medicine. Stem cell therapies are types of regenerative therapies that may offer an innovative approach to alleviating chronic pain in the back or neck that is caused by degenerative disc diseases.
Understanding regenerative therapies
Regenerative medicine first appeared in the medical literature in 1992, and it is a type of translational medicine that works to prompt the body’s own healing and repairing process through the regeneration of healthy tissue. The aim is to help to restore proper function through tissue regeneration. One type of regenerative therapy is stem cell therapy in which undifferentiated stem cells are injected into deteriorated or damaged areas in order to encourage healthy tissue regeneration.
Undifferentiated stem cells
Stem cells are undifferentiated and can be turned into cells that specialize to form many different types of tissues. They can be derived from embryos or from adults. Because of the ethical concerns that arise from the use of embryonic stem cells, adults are the primary source of these cells for regenerative therapies.
Adult stem cells are normally taken from the patients’ bodies who are receiving stem cell therapies. The primary type of stem cell that is used for the treatment of disc degeneration is the messenger stem cell because it can differentiate into bone, cartilage or fat cells. Messenger stem cells are unable to develop into any other types of cells.
How do these treatments work?
In stem cell therapies for the treatment of chronic neck or back pain, stem cells are taken from the patients’ own fat cells or hip bones through aspiration. Then, the tissue is placed in a centrifuge in order to separate out the stem cells from the non-useful material. The patients then have the stem cells injected into their damaged discs, helping to stimulate tissue regeneration and to slowly restore function.
Understanding the procedure
The marrow of the hip bone is the most common source of messenger stem cells for this type of treatment. While the patients lie face-down, the doctors will numb the area using a local anesthetic. The doctor then inserts a needle that is specialized to aspirate the needed marrow from the bone, which is where the messenger stem cells are found. After withdrawing the liquid marrow, the doctors then place it into the centrifuge. The separation process results in a solution of concentrated stem cells, which are subsequently injected into the damaged area. The procedure is relatively painless and can be performed during an in-office visit.
The number of required injections
While many people only need to get one injection, some may need to get up to three in order to derive the full benefit from the treatment. During any calendar year, a patient will not receive any more than a maximum of three injections.
How long before people notice improvements?
The majority of people who receive injections of stem cells report experiencing improvements within the first two to three months. Improvements may be experienced earlier by some patients.
What are the risks?
There is no possibility of suffering an allergic reaction during this procedure because the stem cells are withdrawn from the patient’s own body. The risks that people might face are those associated with getting an injection, including nerve damage, infections or bleeding.
People who experience chronic pain in their necks and backs because of degenerated discs might want to consider stem cell therapy as a surgical alternative. They might want to discuss regenerative therapy with their doctors to learn whether or not it might be a good treatment option for them.
Interested in learning more about regenerative medicine techniques offered at the Spine Institute Northwest? Visit our regenerative therapies page at https://www.fixmypain.ca/treatments/regenerative-therapies/. Or, give us a call at (888) 712-0318. One of our friendly patient advocates are ready to help you.