Whether as a result of injury or age related wear-and-tear, pain in the neck can be more than just a saying: it can be debilitating.
According to the Mayo Clinic, neck pain is the fourth leading cause of disability in the United States. Most episodes of acute neck pain will resolve without treatment, but almost half of the people with neck pain will suffer from recurrent episodes.[i] The good news for these patients is that science and technology are working together to help physicians identify the source of neck pain and offer new options for long-lasting relief.
Identifying the Source of Neck Pain
Advancements in imaging have allowed physicians to get a better look at the intricate details of the spine. This enables them to see the different structures in the cervical spine (neck) more clearly and can help them identify the source of chronic, unresolved neck pain.
Common sources of chronic neck pain include the following:
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis of the spine can lead to degeneration that is associated with the normal wear and tear of joints, discs and bones in the spine as people age. The arthritis can lead to bone spurs that can make movement of the neck painful and create narrowing of the space around the spinal nerves and spinal cord; a condition called spinal stenosis.
- Cervical Facet Joint Dysfunction: The facet joints are the small joints that connect the individual bones in the neck called the vertebrae. These joints allow for movement of the neck and provide stability of the spine. When these joints become inflamed, injured, or get out of alignment, neck pain, stiffness and reduced mobility may result.
- Herniated Discs: The discs are gel filled structures that act as cushion or shock absorbers between the vertebral bones in your spine. They consist of a strong outer layer that protects the disc’s gel-like interior. If the outer layer weakens or tears, the disc may protrude into the spinal canal and affect nearby nerves, causing neck pain, arm pain or muscle spasm.
There are many other causes of neck pain including nerve and spinal cord problems, fracture and non-spine sources like tumor. It is important that your physician perform a comprehensive evaluation of your medical history and physical examination to give you an appropriate diagnosis for your neck pain.
Cellular Treatments that Help Resolve Neck Pain Naturally
Most cases of neck pain can be resolved with physical therapy, activity modification and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Lifestyle improvements such as maintaining proper posture and avoiding prolonged neck bending from the use of mobile devices (ie., “text neck”) are also helpful.
When neck pain persists, spine specialists can offer a number of options for long-lasting pain relief. Orthobiologics are cells and substances derived from cells that are naturally found in the body and have the ability to heal injured tissues. These cellular products are providing new options for treating stubborn neck pain.
· Platelet Rich Plasma puts the healing properties of the patient’s own blood to work in repairing damaged joints and helping with nerve pain. The platelets in the blood release growth factors and proteins that promote tissue repair, while the plasma carries the hormones, electrolytes and nutrients required to nourish cells during the healing process. PRP treatments should be customized to the particular individual and their injury in order to be effective.
· Cell based therapies use a patient’s own bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue derived cells. These cells are comprised of adult stem cells and many other healing cells. They produce molecules that direct other cells in the area to form new blood vessels, decrease inflammation, awaken other stem cells and encourage formation of new healthy tissues. Stem cells are special cells that have the unique ability to develop into the specific kind of cell needed, whether that be a tendon, ligament, cartilage or bone cell. Skilled regenerative medicine practitioners use highly specialized processes to prepare these cells that are then delivered directly to the injured area to stimulate healing.
· Prolotherapy (Proliferative Therapy) uses dextrose and other natural substances that are injected into a chronically injured ligament, nerves or joint in order to help the body jump start its own natural healing response.
Applying Proven Treatments to Neck Pain
Regenerative medicine specialists have been using orthobiologics in the past decade with great success to treat other orthopedic conditions, including knee arthritis, back pain, tennis elbow, tendon tears and more.
A select few qualified physicians are now applying their experience to put these powerful sources of healing to work to address neck pain. To ensure maximum safety and efficacy, patients considering orthobiologic treatments for chronic neck pain should take note of the following important points:
- Cells are derived from your own body: Regenerative products that come from your own body (autologous) have been proven to be safe and effective in peer-reviewed research. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not allow the use of donor stem cell products derived from amniotic fluid or other fetal tissues to treat orthopedic conditions since they have not been proven in safety and efficacy. These products also pose a risk of disease transmission or immune reaction. Moreover, these donor tissues do not to contain living stem cells, as opposed to what is claimed by the companies that market these products.
- Customized treatment: The best outcomes occur when your own cells and platelet rich plasma are prepared using the most advanced protocols to create a treatment that is customized to your specific injury.
- Targeted delivery: To maximize effectiveness, these regenerative treatments should be delivered under image guidance with fluoroscopy (x-ray) or ultrasound to ensure precise delivery to the injured area. Only physicians with fellowship training in advanced image guided procedures are certified to perform these procedures.
- Expert physicians: If you are considering regenerative medicine for the treatment of your spine condition, seek a board-certified physician who specializes in treating orthopedic injuries and has advanced training in regenerative medicine. These physicians are best suited to obtain the best results employing the latest research, technology and safety protocols.
Since orthobiologic treatments for neck pain are relatively new within the field of regenerative medicine, patients need to ask the right questions and research the appropriate physicians to deliver the best care.
Drs. Christopher J. Rogers and Mary A. Ambach of San Diego Orthobiologics Medical Group together have successfully treated thousands of patients with cell-based therapies for more than three decades. They are published authors and stem cell researchers who were chosen to participate in a first of its kind, FDA-approved clinical trial to treat knee osteoarthritis. The SDOMG facility in Carlsbad contains the most advanced Regenerative Medicine technology in San Diego and offers same day treatments with the highest level of safety, efficacy and patient satisfaction.