More Ligament Stem Cells…Your Spine Ligaments are…”Alllliiivvve”
Ligament stem cells? If you read this blog, you likely know that stem cells are found all over our bodies. They can be isolated in plentiful numbers from bone marrow and fat, but they also live in cartilage cells, bone, liver, muscles…you name it. In fact, these stem cells serve as the maintenance men of these tissues, helping them to deal with day to day wear and tear. When the stem cells are healthy, you’re likely healthy. When they fail, so will your body. It’s therefore likely not too surprising that your spinal ligaments have stem cells. The spinal ligaments are like the duct tape that holds the spine together. As you injure any ligament, it can either repair itself or the damage may be too extensive. If it’s able to repair itself, that repair would have to be mediated through stem cells. This was recently confirmed in a research paper that isolated mesechymal stem cells from human spinal ligaments, much the same way they are isolated from fatty tissue. The fact that these resident ligaments stem cells exist is important, as it provides basic science support for ligament treatments like prolotherapy or platelet rich plasma. Prolotherapy is a procedure where an irritant solution is injected into ligaments to cause a brief inflammatory reaction to heal and tighten ligaments. These procedures could work by resident stem cells being stimulated to turn into ligament cells (fibrocytes) or by up regulating the ability of local stem cells to produce chemicals to aid in repair. Is there evidence that prolotherapy can tighten ligaments? Our own research in the cervical spine has shown that prolotherapy is capable of tightening lax ligaments. In addition, Reeves showed the same thing with knee ACL ligaments. All of this is also consistent with recent research showing that the ACL ligament also has stem cells. What happens when these biologic stimulant technologies don’t work? We’ve seen tremendous results in more severe ligament tears when stem cells are injected directly into ligament. This procedure may replace some of the lost resident stem cells in ligaments, thus restoring their ability to heal. The upshot? Stem cells are everywhere in our bodies. In the case of ligaments, they are the little repairmen that keep the duct tape of the body in tip top shape!