What Is Regenerative Medicine?
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Regenerative medicine includes treatments like PRP therapy and stem cell therapy. The most common conditions that have been successfully treated using regenerative medical procedures include arthritis and injuries to cartilage, tendons, muscle, bone, spinal discs, and other tissue types. For many patients, it can help them:
- Reduce pain
- Get back to their daily activities
- Be more productive at work
In this post, we talk about how these treatments work and if they could relieve your pain.
Benefits Of Regenerative Medicine For PainChronic pain can affect a person’s ability to function during daily activities and their job responsibilities. Pain increases a person’s rate of physician appointments, disability claims, and loss of productivity. Using estimates from both acute and chronic pain conditions, back pain alone accounts for pain in approximately 100 million adults in the U.S.
For these patients, regenerative medicine may be able to help. Regenerative medicines are cutting-edge therapies that use chemistry, medicine, robotics, biology, computer science, genetics, and engineering to construct a biologically compatible structure for many different tissues found in the body. Although relatively new in the field of acute and chronic pain management, regenerative medical procedures do date back as early as 1962.
Regenerative medicine offers a number of different benefits, including:
- Faster recovery time following the procedure
- Improvements in joint, ligaments, and tendon function
- No significant incisions or trauma to the area
- Very little pain or discomfort during the procedure
- No general anesthesia
- Renewal and repair within the joint or tissues
- Very low side effect profile
- Little risk of allergy or adverse reactions
The following TED Talk gives a greater overview of the possible future benefits of this therapy.
History Of Regenerative Medicine For PainRegenerative medicine emerged from a number of different advances in complementary scientific and technological fields. These processes are also known as tissue engineering, which utilizes living tissue and other biocompatible substances. Growth factor found in the body and other physical elements can be used to generate substances that will repair tissue that was damaged as a result of injury, or even to replace an organ that is failing as a result of the aging process.
The vast majority of early regenerative procedures were tissue-based, being developed for skin grafting. The first successful tissue that was engineered for grafting procedures was finalized in the 1970s, a mere eight years after the first synthetic tissue was developed. Howard Green and colleagues from Harvard Medical School began by harvesting a skin biopsy, later perfecting the practice of growing skin epidermis.
Following these advancements, researchers developed regenerative medical improvements in stem cell research, enabling successful bone marrow transplantation for individuals suffering from leukemia.
Having discovered the ability of the body to organize and regenerate tissue after cell death, researchers aimed their future studies at the goal of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering to replace tissue that had been damaged, lost through injury, or deteriorating with advanced age. Many diseases and injuries that result from failing tissue could potentially be successfully treated using regenerative medicine therapies.
Pain Conditions Treated With Regenerative MedicineChronic pain lasts for more than three months and outlasts the typical, expected healing time. Approximately 100 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain conditions that can range from mild to excruciating and can be simply inconvenient or completely incapacitating. Chronic pain not only results in physical disability, but long-term can result in significant psychological and emotional suffering that can limit an individual’s ability to function fully.
Symptoms will vary patient to patient, but may include:
- Shooting or burning pain
- Radiating pain
- Generalized feelings of soreness, tightness, or stiffness
- Increased anxiety, stress, and depression
Pain is thought to be an indicator of tissue damage or an underlying injury. A number of existing treatments can help a patient cope with chronic pain, but don’t fully address the underlying damage or injury. New regenerative medicine therapies can target the underlying problem and promote the body’s natural healing processes. Patients who experience the following list of conditions may be viable candidates for regenerative medicine.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition that causes degenerative cartilage changes in the joints. It is believed that the damage can be the result of wear and tear on the joint through a number of years or as a direct result of a specific injury. With enough damage to the cartilage that protects the joint, there is a high risk opposing bones will rub directly against each other. This direct contact causes damage to the ends of the bones and a significant inflammatory response and pain.
Traditional treatment approaches only help to manage the pain and not cure the condition. Stem cell therapy is believed to be more fitting since the goal is to repair the condition and reduce the bone-on-bone contact.
This is a degenerative condition of the individual bones of the spine, called vertebrae. Most commonly, spondylolisthesis occurs when the vertebrae slips over one another or becomes dislocated. Patients may experience nonspecific low back pain because a large number of individuals with this anatomical distortion do not present to their physician with related symptoms, including pain.
With spondylolisthesis the nerves around the weakened vertebrae can become compressed, resulting in pain and potentially muscle weakness. These symptoms can include:
- Pain in the back or buttocks
- Pain that travels down one or both legs
- Numbness or weakness
- Difficulty walking
- In rare cases, loss of bladder or bowel control
Estimates are that 12% of the population has had difficulties with spondylolisthesis.
This common condition is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal. With spinal stenosis there is a restriction from this narrowing that results in neurogenic claudication. The spine is a row of 26 bones that allows movement and bending. Through the center is an opening, or canal, that protects the spinal cord. The narrowing with spinal stenosis can occur in the center, in the canals, or the spaces between the vertebrae. This narrowing puts pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord and can result in pain or numbness in the legs or shoulders, depending upon where the restriction is located.
Spinal stenosis is more common in individuals over the age of 50 years, but may occur in younger people who suffer an injury to the spine or are born with a narrowing of the spinal canal. Generally, pain specialists suggest using conservative or lifestyle changes to manage pain from this condition. If that doesn’t work, patients may find relief with regenerative medicine techniques.
Spinal deformities are genetically linked issues that are related to the natural curvature of the spine. They generally involve the entire length of the spinal column and are relatively uncommon.
Conditions can affect the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spinal regions and symptoms will vary widely depending upon the location. Some of these conditions are visible at birth, while others are only diagnosed when signs and symptoms develop.
A compression fracture is typically caused by osteoporosis and has a higher prevalence rate among post-menopausal women and in those individuals with a long history of corticosteroid use. These fractures result in a decrease in height of the vertebrae of at least 15 to 20%.
In one study, which examined 7,000 women over the age of 65, researchers found that 5% had suffered a compression fracture over a four-year period. Previous studies have suggested that nearly 4% of adults evaluated in a primary care setting could attribute back pain symptoms to a compression fracture.
Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that results in symptoms from changes to the vertebral discs in adults as they age. The aging process increases the risk of tears to the disc, which is a likely cause of this type of pain. Spinal discs are soft and compressible that helps cushion the spinal column, which allows the spine to flex, twist, and bend. Although it can occur anywhere along the spine, it most often occurs in the lower back and neck. The pain can occur throughout the spine but in some instances affects the intervertebral disc.
Treatment modalities include physical therapy, pain medications, spinal fusion surgery, and steroid injections. New advances in regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy can help patients suffering from degenerative disc disease. Following extraction of the patient’s stem cells, usually from the bone marrow in the hip, the cells are engineered, concentrated, and injected into the site of the injury.
A herniated disc is characterized by damage to the intervertebral discs, which cause them to bulge from the intervertebral space or to rupture completely. The daily stress of movement, poor posture, injuries, and age can cause them to bulge, rupture, or herniate. The expansion of the disc material puts pressure on the surrounding nerves and spinal column, which is believed to be the source of pain. Herniated discs are more commonly found in aging people. Treatments include physical therapy, which has shown promise in relieving pain and improving the ability to function daily, however, it requires a significant time commitment in the therapist’s office and in daily home exercises.
Surgical treatment options may be suggested to cut out or remove the bulging or herniated material from the spinal column. The removal of the herniated disc carries a number of different risks related to the area of the spinal column where the disc is located and the weakened area of the column following surgery. Surgery is not always successful and there is a slight risk of damage to the spine or nerves, and risk of infection. New techniques from regenerative medicine using a patient’s own stem cells has shown good results with regeneration and rebuilding of the network of cells that make up the injured disc.
This is a common form of chronic foot pain that occurs between the ball of the foot and the heel. There is a thick connective tissue on the bottom of the foot, called the plantar fascia, which connects the ball of the foot to the heel. This plantar fascia supports the arch of the foot and can become strained from a number of different sources, including overuse, tight calf muscles, and poor foot placement. The damage forms tiny tears along the ligament, which is the likely source of pain. Treatments usually target the underlying condition, and then the symptoms of pain.
Regenerative medical treatments are an ideal choice for patients who have chronic pain in the plantar fascia and have corrected the underlying biomechanical issue that caused the initial condition. These therapies will promote healing of the damaged tissue. In fact, several studies provide realistic support for the use of platelet rich plasma therapy as an effective method of treatment to reduce or eliminate the pain associated with plantar fasciitis.
Sacroiliac joint pain
The sacroiliac joint is a large joint area that is located at the base of the spine. The joint connects the spine to the hip, or pelvis. In many cases, the individual can identify an injury that transpired previous to the onset of pain. Causes of this type of pain include:
- Degenerative arthritis
- Abnormal walking patterns
- Leg length discrepancy
There is limited evidence that current treatments are successful. Once a doctor relieves the underlying cause of pain, regenerative medicine may affect some degree of pain relief. This pain relief appears to last longer than that of steroid injections.
Also known as sciatica, lumbar radiculopathy occurs when a herniated disc, often between L5 and S1, pushes against the nerve. Patients experience pain that travels down the leg. The primary goal is to reduce the size of the disc and reduce the compression on the nerve root, thus reducing the pain.
There are a number of different treatment options for patients who suffer from lumbar radiculopathy. However, if they are unsuccessful, or if patients do not receive relief from their pain, they can be a candidate for stem cell injections.
In cervical radiculopathy, patients experience chronic pain originating from the cervical spine, or the neck area. When a disc in the neck pushes against a nerve root exiting the cervical spine, it causes pain to travel down the arms.
Radiculopathy in younger individuals can be from a herniated disc or neck injury. Older adults may suffer but physicians expect to also find osteophyte formation causing narrowing of the foramen, a reduced disc height and degenerative changes in the intervertebral joints.
Failed back surgery
Some patients who experience severe, unremitting back pain choose to undergo surgery to gain relief. Unfortunately, some patients may continue to suffer pain following surgical repair, which is recognized as a failed back surgery. Causes include:
- Scar tissue that develops around the surgical site as the patient heals
- Disc herniation
- Post-operative pressure on the spinal nerve
- Altered joint mobility in the spine
Individuals with a history of other emotional disturbances, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, depression, or anxiety are at an increased risk of developing chronic pain conditions following a back surgery.
Pain symptoms of a failed back surgery are usually dull, aching pain that is diffuse across the back and legs. Some patients do suffer from stabbing, pricking, or sharp pain in the limbs. When other treatments have failed to relieve pain following a failed back surgery, regenerative medicine treatment options might be considered.
Other ConsiderationsIf you’re experiencing pain, you’ll first need a diagnosis of what’s causing your pain. Although there is evidence that regenerative medicine can benefit a wide variety of chronic pain conditions, as with other therapies, there are individuals whose pain will not respond to this treatment approach. Your doctor can help determine which particular treatment protocol is right for your individual condition.
Further, regenerative medicine therapies are relatively new and historically have very few studies documenting their effectiveness on different types of pain conditions. The FDA has not approved the use of adult stem cells to treat aging or to prevent, treat, or cure any disease or medical condition mentioned. Because of this, your insurance may not cover the cost of these procedures.
In addition, many regenerative medicine studies and treatments involve the use of living stem cells. Both legal and ethical issues are inherent in the use of embryonic stem cells. Although stem cell research holds great promise for the development of successful treatment modalities for conditions that thus far have no permanent treatment, research also raises both ethical and political controversies. However, reprogramming adult stem cells to produce pluripotent stem cells avoids these ethical issues that are specific to embryonic stem cell research. Adult or pluripotent stem cells are used for the majority of all regenerative pain medicine approaches, but always talk to your doctor if you have further questions.
ConclusionUp to 90% of the population will experience a painful condition at one time in their life that affects their daily function. There are some estimates that back pain costs $100 billion annually, which includes medical expenses and loss of productivity. Chronic pain also has a number of negative consequences in an individual’s life, including emotional and mental distress. This emotional and mental trauma also contributes to an increase in perception of pain. Regenerative medicine therapies can help some patients reduce their pain and get back to their life.
To learn more about regenerative medicine for your pain condition, you can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.
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