Unraveling the Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy
In the world of orthopedic spine surgery, stem cell therapy has become a bit of a buzzword. But, what is stem cell therapy and how does it work? And, even more importantly, how can stem cells benefit your bones? Let’s take a brief look at all of these things. Although a complex topic by it’s very nature, we’ll break stem cell therapy down to the very basics!
The Basics of Stem Cells
Your body possesses the astonishing capability to restore and repair itself. By and large, your stem cells make this knack for rejuvenation possible. Your stem cells wield the remarkable ability to replenish your tissues by duplicating themselves to replace damaged cells. As adults, we possess millions of these specialized cells, each assigned to a particular function and location in the body. For instance, a designated set of stem cells reproduce the lining of your stomach. However, other stem cells can give rise to neural cells in the brain… Or, direct the repair of your skin. These specialized cells occupy many different tissues of the body, from your blood vessels and muscles to your bone marrow—and beyond! (The list of stem cell locations and functions goes on and on!)
Despite their widespread nature, these adult stem cells can only duplicate and create more cells that are exactly like them. For example, implanting a stem cell from your brain into your stomach would not enable your stomach lining to heal any more quickly. Subtle differences in the genetic design of stem cells simply don’t allow for this. Despite this differentiation, however, all adult stem cells originated from the same source: embryonic stem cells.
Embryonic Stem Cells: Where it all begins!
The primitive beginnings of adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells develop a few days after conception. In essence, these first cells represent the beginnings of you and me. From this fundamental source, all other cells in the body will develop and mature—including adult stem cells. In utero, our embryonic stem cells reproduce, evolving into specialized cells according to chemical instructions embedded into our DNA. These embryonic cells only exist at these early stages of development. (Shortly thereafter, they transform into adult stem cell lines.) Nevertheless, scientists regard these embryonic cells as special, because they can evolve into any type of cell in the body.
Stem Cells for Healing
The benefits of using both embryonic and adult stem cells for medical healing may seem obvious. After all, the very purpose of these cells is to heal and restore. Unfortunately, our adult stem cells are isolated in very specific (and yet difficult to access) areas of our body. That is, with one notable exception… Our bone marrow.
Bone marrow produces a special type of stem cell that doctors use for a variety of healing purposes. Unlike most adult stem cells, the Mesenchymal stem cells in our bone marrow can develop into many different cell types. These types include cells that repair bones, muscles, cartilage, fat, and other similar tissues. Correspondingly, using stem cells cultivated from your own body, your surgeon can resolve a number of orthopedic conditions.
The Orthopedic Benefits of Stem Cells
The use of orthopedic stem cell therapy has skyrocketed over the last decade. By harvesting stem cells from your bone marrow, doctors can restore damaged bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage—and even entire joints! Compared to the short-lived relief of pain-relievers and corticosteroid injections, stem cells provide comprehensive and lasting freedom from pain.
- Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Arthritis: Researchers believe that stem cell therapy can moderate the inflammatory response that defines spinal, knee, or hip osteoarthritis.
- Tendinitis: Tendinitis occurs when the tendons that attach muscle to bone suffer irritation or injury. In particular, orthopedists use stem cell therapy to accelerate the healing of these damaged tissues.
- Bursitis: Bursitis develops when any of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion your joints sustains inflammation or swelling. As with tendinitis, doctors use stem cell therapy to promote the healing of bursae—particularly, of the shoulder, elbow, or knee.
- Degenerative Disc Disease: Degenerative Disc Disease refers to any form of deterioration that affects your intervertebral discs. This can include disc collapse, bulging, or herniation. To treat degenerative disc disease, your doctor will inject stem cells directly into the site of spinal damage.
- Facet Joint Disorders: Doctors use stem cell therapy to reverse the gradual deterioration of the facet joints, or Facet Joint Disease. Your facet joints form the articulation points for spinal movement where two vertebrae meet.
- Osteonecrosis: Osteonecrosis, or bone death, occurs when the skeletal system fails to maintain adequate blood supply to nourish the bones. With osteonecrosis patients, doctors use stem cell therapy to replenish lost bone marrow and to encourage bone regeneration.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of stem cell therapy have just begun to unfold. We are only witnessing the tip of the iceberg for what possibilities the future may hold. Needless to say, a multitude of individuals have achieved long-term relief from symptoms through recent advancements in stem cell therapy. With experienced surgeons and researchers at the helm, this minimally invasive procedure could revolutionize the way we experience orthopedic care.