Degeneration…it’s that ugly, hopeless word we hate to hear when it’s applied to our health. It makes us feel old, like we’re breaking down and wearing out way too soon. The word degeneration is defined as a state or process of being or becoming degenerate; decline or deterioration. As healthcare providers, we can see degeneration and the results of the progressive, destructive processes on the joints and spine when we look at x-rays, CT scans or MRI scans. All of us can feel this process occurring in our own body as we begin to lose range of motion, become more stiff, experience achy and inflamed joints, and have progressively worsening joint pain in one or more areas of the body.
Regeneration, on the other hand, is the opposite process of degeneration. Regeneration is defined as the action or process of regenerating or being regenerated, in particular the formation of new tissue. To varying degrees, depending on our age and health, both processes are occurring right now in all of us. Our cells break down every day and they are replaced by new cells. These cells, very generally, start as a “stem cell” which basically means a cell that is undifferentiated and capable of becoming a cell for any organ or tissue in the body. When we are young, the regeneration of cells and tissues occurs at a much faster rate than the degeneration of cells so we grow and repair at a very quick rate. However, as we age and mature, this process begins to flip and degeneration of our cells and tissues occurs at an increasingly faster rate than the regeneration of the cells. This is what we all know and feel as aging. For many of us, this process of degeneration occurs much quicker and much earlier due to a variety of factors including childhood sports injuries, bad posture, all the slips and falls we had as children, and heredity. Diet and lifestyle throughout our life also plays a big role in determining the rate and location of degeneration in our body.
One thing we know that can slow the rate of degeneration of our joints and spine is proper posture. We’ve known this for years and it’s why our Mom always scolded us for slouching, telling us to “stand up straight!” We also know that proper joint alignment is important to keep the joints moving in the most ideal plane to glide and move freely rather than grind and jam up. We live our life through movement so if we move our joints and body in a dysfunctional way, we create problems in the joints and supporting tissues. For this reason, we focus a lot of our attention on structure and movement to slow the degenerative process and allow people to enjoy a more pain-free range of motion in their lifestyle choices.
Most recently, a new medical science has also emerged that may actually bring hope to those that suffer the effects of joint degeneration, disc degeneration and chronic joint pain. Stem cell therapy is the most intriguing new procedure being used in healthcare today. As mentioned earlier, stem cells are cells in our body that are undifferentiated and have the potential to become any tissue our body needs. Essentially, these cells are our body’s internal repair system. These cells are unique in that they seek out sites of degeneration to build, repair and grow new tissue, are effective in being anti-inflammatory, and are immunomodulatory meaning they modulate our body’s immune responses. The problem is that as were infants, 1 in every 10,000 cells was a stem cell but by the time we reach our 50’s only 1 in every 400,000 cells is a stem cell. By the time we reach our 80’s only 1 in 2 million cells is a stem cell. With less stem cells in our body, less regeneration potential exists causing less ability to repair, longer recovery times and faster aging of our tissues. Stem cell therapy appears to provide hope to a condition that once seemed hopeless.
As always, don’t wait for things to breakdown! Be pro-active with your health and well-being today. And remember, there is hope! It’s your health and your life so choose today to live it well!