The spine may seem like a relatively simple part of the body, but there is a lot of mechanics involved in the structure and movement of this area. The spine has several bones called vertebrae. In between each set of bones are spongy discs that keep the bones from coming together. Discs also create the space that is needed for nerve roots to pass through the bones of the spine and into the body. Clearly, we need our discs to stay in good shape for as long as possible.
Spinal discs endure a lot of wear and tear. This can cause them to break down in any number of ways. Degeneration often begins with dehydration. The discs have a tough fibrous shell on the outside and a soft inner core. Dehydration can cause the outer shell to crack. This can cause the soft gel inside the disc to seep out into the nerve space where it causes inflammation. As a result of seepage, nerves become hypersensitive and painful. And there’s more.
Seeing that one of the jobs of spinal discs is to keep the vertebrae separate, a decrease in volume within any disc subsequently lessens the space between bony structures. In decreasing this space, disc degeneration forces more pressure on nerve roots. To compensate for this, the body creates “volume” in the form of osteophytes, better known as bone spurs. Bony growths in the disc space can be removed, but this is a more involved surgical process.
Diagnosing and Treating Degenerative Disc Disease
Back pain may be a clear indicator of degenerative disc disease. The problem is many people don’t notice pain until it has begun to alter their lifestyle. A decrease in intervertebral space may cause stiffness, muscle spasms, even pain that occurs away from the back itself. Sciatica is one of many examples. In addition to noting self-reported symptoms from the patient, a doctor may order x-rays a CT scan, or other imaging.
Keeping in mind that disc degeneration can lead to herniation and debilitating symptoms of nerve compression, the objective in treating this problem is to restore proper space between the vertebrae. Historically, this has meant spinal decompression, often with the fusion of two or more bones. Before degeneration becomes severe, patients may consider stem cell therapy.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells are the Jack-of-All-Trade cells that can morph into any other kind of cell. When treating spinal pain, doctors inject stem cells into the injured area to stimulate a natural healing response in which tissue regenerates over time. In some cases, patients who undergo stem cell therapy are able to postpone the idea of decompression surgery for a lengthy period.