How Bone Marrow Can Treat Disc Disease

January 20, 2022


The 23 shock-absorbing discs that separate the bones of the spine—the vertebrae—have a strong outer portion that surrounds a soft, gel-like inner core. When these discs begin to break down, either from age or injury, they may herniate (bulge), tear, decrease in height or dry out. This can result in pressure on nearby nerves.

Degenerative disc disease often occurs as part of the aging process. By age 40, it is estimated that 40 percent of the population has some degree of degenerative disc disease. But by age 80 that percentage doubles.[1]

Where patients experience pain from degenerative discs depends on where in the spine the disc is bulging: pain in the lower back is a symptom of lumbar degenerative disc disease, while the neck and arm pain are common symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease.

Although non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and steroid injections can alleviate the painful symptoms of degenerative disc disease, they do not address the cause of the pain.

But treatment with bone marrow stem cells can.

What is Bone Marrow Aspirate Concentrate?

The body’s bone marrow possesses unique properties that enable it to help the body to heal itself naturally. That is because bone marrow contains regenerative cells that hold a rich reservoir of “pluripotent” stem cells that, unlike other cells of the body, are “undifferentiated.” You might think of these cells as “generic” as opposed to “brand name.”

These unique cells can replicate themselves into distinct kinds of cells, which makes them an ideal vehicle for treating orthopedic injuries such as tendon tears, worn cartilage and degenerated disc tissue.

To treat patients with bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC), a small sample (about four tablespoons) of bone marrow from around the patient’s hip is removed by needle aspiration. That material is then transferred to a highly specialized centrifuge where it is spun at high speeds to separate and concentrate the healing stem cells. Using x-ray or ultrasound guidance, that concentrated healing material is then reinjected into the patient at the specific site of the disc degeneration so that the pluripotent stem cells can begin to develop into new, healthy disc cells and jump-start the body’s own natural healing abilities.

The entire procedure is autologous, meaning the materials used come from the patient’s own body and are not donor products.

How Effective is BMAC?

A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that 26 patients suffering from degenerative disc disease who were candidates for major surgery such as spinal fusion or total disc replacement underwent BMAC. Three years later, only six of those patients had progressed to surgery.[2] In fact, there is considerable evidence that the benefits of BMAC therapy may last up to ten years or longer.

Moreover, because BMAC is a minimally invasive procedure performed on an out-patient basis, there is no need for lengthy hospitalizations or in-patient rehab. Most patients require only a single BMAC treatment (depending on the degree of the injury) and are generally able to begin physical therapy and a gradual resumption of their daily activities within a week.

For those who have seen their quality of life significantly diminished by degenerative disc pain and for whom major surgery was looking like their last option for long-term pain relief, BMAC performed by an experienced regenerative medicine specialist can be a game-changer.

To learn more about how the team at Integrative Spine & Sports uses BMAC, fill out the form below:

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