A Regenerative Approach for the Pain of Degenerative Disc Disease
Meet nature’s shock absorbers.
Though our bodies’ internal framework is made up of rock-solid bones, we’re surprisingly flexible creatures. Our ability to bend and twist owes much to our spinal discs, the small donut-shaped cushions between each of the bony vertebrae that make up our spine.
Over many years of bending and twisting, alas, those little shock absorbers can lose their cushioning ability. The wear and tear can cause those rubbery discs to become harder, thinner and uneven – but don’t take it personally. Some amount of disc degeneration happens to everyone, and is generally not even noticed.
But some people are unluckier than others.
The problem comes in when discs begin to bulge, crack, leak and slip out of place. That breakdown, combined with its impact on the nerves and blood vessels that run along the spine, plus the resulting inflammation, is collectively known as degenerative disc disease.
How will you know if you have degenerative disc disease? Oh, you’ll know. The pain can be mild and intermittent. But more often it can be piercing and constant, especially when you’re moving around. That flexible body of yours becomes somewhat less flexible.
What else can cause degenerative disc disease?
A physical impact or a fall can trigger disc problems, and the accompanying pain. That’s especially true when there’s already some age-related degeneration.
Those who are overweight or obese are naturally putting more pressure on their spinal discs, and that too can cause or exacerbate degenerative disc disease. That’s why people who are both older and overweight are particularly vulnerable.
“But I didn’t even pick up anything heavy.”
Degenerative disc disease can be confusing, because we often associate back pain with muscle strain. But this really has little to do with your muscles; it’s a nerve thing. Plus the discomfort isn’t always felt in the back – pain, as well as tingling and weakness, can also be felt in the neck, buttocks, arms and legs, depending on the location of the affected disc.
Certain movements such as walking or bending can cause spikes of teeth-clenching pain. Sitting or lying in one position can feel better – but if you stay down too long, you may really see stars when you attempt to get up.
With any luck at all, the pain will go away by itself.
If it does, congratulations, you’re one of the (relatively) lucky ones. But sometimes it doesn’t – ouch ouch ouch – and you’ll do just about anything for relief.
Traditional treatments for degenerative disc disease include:
- A specific physical therapy regimen of stretching and strengthening
- Massage, to help sooth muscles that are clenched from the pain
- Aspirin or ibuprofen to alleviate inflammation
- Steroid injections, for nerve root pain and swelling.
In advanced, chronic cases of degenerative disc disease, your bad disc can be replaced with an artificial one, much like replacing a worn-out kitchen faucet gasket. But unlike a quick plumbing fix, we’re talking serious surgery here. You really don’t want to go there unless all other options are exhausted.
Regenerative medicine, to the rescue.
This relatively new branch of medical treatment is still evolving, but is showing more and more promise in relieving issues like degenerative disc disease. Since it leverages the body’s own healing power, it’s also a more natural approach to treatment.
Regenerative medicine products such as PRP, Wharton’s jelly, exosomes and stem cells injected in and around the spine may provide long lasting relief of pain, which often allows not only improved function but improved quality of life as well.
Exosomes are particles naturally produced in your body which direct various cellular functions. They have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and reduced inflammation typically means reduced pain. Exosomes may also heal by prompting some cell re-growth. Repeated injections over time may be necessary.
Some recent research has shown that combining a platelet-rich fibrin matrix with the exosomes may actually help reverse or at least slow degenerative disc changes, and help restore disc thickness. Additional highly promising regenerative medicine solutions are on the horizon.
Learn all the options before you decide.
It’s important to know that natural exosomes tend to act quicker and last longer than traditional steroids in reducing inflammation. Plus the regenerative approach doesn’t risk damaging cells and connective tissue the way steroids like cortisone can, especially with repeated use.
Any treatment that helps you avoid surgery has value, since surgical approaches like disc replacement and spinal fusion always carry their own risks.