Stem Cell Therapy in Degenerative Disc Disease

Stem Cell Therapy in Degenerative Disc Disease

 

Although its name would suggest so, degenerative disc disease isn’t actually considered a disease, as well as the fact that it isn’t even a progressively degenerative scenario. The process describes the natural breakdown of the intervertebral space of the spine. This can occur anywhere in the spine but the most common area of involvement in the lower back or lumbar spine. Degenerative disc disease is, therefore, a natural and common process in the general population.

It is when degenerative disk disease begins to cause problematic symptoms in affected individuals that it becomes a process that needs to be evaluated and managed further.

Cause

The following points will explain the process that occurs during degenerative disc disease:

  • There is a reduction in the fluid in the discs between the vertebrae as one gets older and this eventually leads to gradual narrowing and collapse of the space in the spinal column.
  • As the space between the spinal bones (vertebrae) decreases, increased pressure is applied to the intervertebral discs causing them to crack.
  • Thereafter, the fluid in the intervertebral disc, which cushions the vertebrae, leaks out and compresses or irritates the nerve roots coming out of the spinal canal. This is called disc herniation.
  • The result here is that the adjacent vertebrae then start to collapse on one another. This causes the facet joints, which join these vertebrae, to shift causing decreased mobility of the spine.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of severe degenerative disc disease include:

  • Usually, lower back pain but this will depend on the location of the degeneration. It is important to know that the severity of degeneration doesn’t always correlate to the amount of pain experienced by the affected individual.
  • Degeneration affecting the lower back may result in lower back pain that radiates to the hips, buttocks, thighs, and legs.
  • The weakness of the hips, knees, and legs.
  • A tingling sensation or numbness in the mentioned anatomical areas.
  • If the neck is involved, the localized pain will be around the cervical vertebrae and this may refer to the arms and hands as well as decreased sensation and power to this anatomy.
  • Pain is worsened by movements such as sitting, lifting, bending and twisting.
  • As the process worsens, the patient’s mobility can become restricted resulting in increased disability.

Management

The conservative management of symptomatic degenerative disc disease includes the following treatment therapies:

  • Use of over-the-counter medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
  • Physical therapy to help improve the strength of the muscles surrounding the affected areas of the spine.
  • Steroid and local anesthetic agents may be injected into the epidural space to help reduce pain caused by the condition.

Stem cell therapy has been researched recently as a possible treatment to help manage patients with symptomatic degenerative disc disease. In clinical studies, stem cells were derived from the fat (adipose) tissue of affected individuals and then injected into the bloodstream and the discs of the patients. The following findings were made:

  • The implanted stem cells differentiated (converted) into disc cells.
  • These new disc cells then exhibited matrix-producing functionality which helped to repair the damaged tissue.

The circulating stem cells also stimulated the release of anti-inflammatory markers which helped to reduce the inflammatory response at the discs, thereby reducing damage to the tissue.

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