Torn spinal discs — also referred to as annular tears, herniated discs, ruptured discs, or slipped discs — affect millions across the globe. Though this condition can be caused by an injury, more commonly it’s the result of degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease is the result of wear and tear on spinal discs over time, which can lead to their breakdown. The discs provide cushioning that supports the spine and allows it to move comfortably, and so an injured disc can result in debilitating pain. What can be done to fix a torn disc? Read on to learn more about this condition, and some of the newest treatments for it.
What are intervertebral discs?
Intervertebral discs are made up of soft tissue that sits between the vertebrae. The discs are made of an outer layer (the annulus fibrosus) that surrounds a soft, gelatinous inner layer (the nucleus pulposus). It acts in a similar way to gel padding in shoes, allowing your spine to withstand compression from movement and comfortable bear weight.
Though acute injuries to the discs can require immediate surgery, chronic injuries can develop over years and be more difficult to detect — you may not realize what the problem is until there has been an extensive breakdown in the tissue. At this point, there are several directions that you can go in treating the pain.
Do torn discs ever heal on their own?
In some cases, an annular tear will actually heal by itself — but it’s hard to predict whether this will happen, since it’s not a process that’s not yet completely understood. This process, called resorption, happens when the inflammation from a torn disc attracts cells called phagocytes. As their name implies (the Greek word “phagein” means “to devour”), these cells “eat up” the herniated cells. Eventually, all of the damaged cells are completely resorbed by the body. Unfortunately though, we don’t know why this process happens naturally for some people, but for others — or in other instances — it doesn’t occur.
What conservative treatments are available for herniated discs?
Pain from a torn disc can be at least temporarily alleviated with conservative treatments including OTC or prescription pain medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, injections, rest, low-impact exercise, massage, or physical therapy. If pain does not decrease over time, and an MRI or other imaging test shows that there has not been a reduction in the size of the tear, a more intensive treatment may be needed.
Are there other treatments that can help torn discs?
If more conservative treatments have not helped your herniated disc but you are hesitant to have surgery, regenerative treatments may present a useful solution. This area is a new frontier in medicine where the body’s own natural resources are used to regrow or generate new tissue.
To treat a torn disc, autologous (i.e., from your own body) stem cells are injected directly into the injured disc. Stem cells can be taken from bone marrow or from body fat, depending on the type of injury. These can then be combined with a natural cellular matrix, which acts as a scaffolding for the new cells, to create the best possible circumstances for cell growth. Fluoroscopy, which is like a live x-ray, is used to ensure that the injection goes directly to the injured area. Regenerative therapies can be completed right at the Spine Institute Northwest, often in less than 30 minutes. Though it does take time for regeneration to occur, the procedure itself places considerably less strain on the body than a traditional surgery that disrupts an extensive amount of tissue.
Want to learn more about the regenerative therapies available at the Spine Institute Northwest? Call us at 206-496-0630 today!