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Regenerative Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease

Painful discs in the neck or low back are common causes of severe back pain and disability.  The ability to get these to heal without surgery has been a long-term goal of many patients and physicians alike.  We are now on the verge of creating those possibilities.

At the Virginia Spine Institute, we are working with two different approaches to help degenerative injured discs heal without surgery.  The first is injecting a person’s own blood products into the disc to cause it to heal.  This is using a substance called PRP or platelet-rich plasma.  To do this, we aspirate blood from a person’s vein, centrifuge it down, collect the platelets and growth factors out and then inject that into the disc under x-ray guidance to stimulate the healing process.  We have been doing this for the past several years with great success in improving patient’s functional levels and with greatly reducing pain without surgical intervention.

The second option is injecting stem cells into the disc.  These stem cells are harvested from the patient’s own iliac crest or hip bone, centrifuged down, collected, and then injected into the disc, stimulating healing of the disc by using these primitive blood cells to stimulate regeneration of the collagen within the disc.  This technique has been done for the past year and again we are excited to report improvement in the patients.

The ideal candidates for these novel procedures are individuals who have mild disc injuries or mild tears and intractable back pain in spite of six months of appropriate exercise, activity modification, and therapy.  For people who have failed the non-operative management that are not prepared to undergo a major surgery and have problems limited to one or at the most two levels, then this is a reasonable option.  The more collapsed the disc is, the more arthritic changes, the less likely these procedures will be beneficial for a given individual.  However, time may allow us to increase the variety of conditions treated with these technologies.

Not all patients will be a candidate for these disc regeneration procedures.  For those few that are the ideal candidates, this provides them great hope with reduction in pain, improved quality of life without the need for major surgery.  We are excited about these great advances in health care and look forward to helping achieve the betterment of our patients and patients across the nation.

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