What Do Collagen, Hyaluronic Acid & Herniated Discs Have In Common?

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Woman Rubbing Back of Neck

It's estimated there are up to 3 million cases of herniated discs in the United States alone every year. Herniated discs happen when the soft inside of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the discs' outer layer. The jellylike material then leaks out thereafter.

While some herniated discs won't exhibit symptoms, more severe cases can cause pain, inflammation, numbness, and/or weakness in the limbs—and can require treatment like physical therapy and even surgery.

And in those cases, a new approach has just emerged using two surprising ingredients: hyaluronic acid and collagen.

When we hear collagen and hyaluronic acid, our minds immediately go to skin care. Both of them have been proved to improve skin's elasticity and texture, but it turns out they're good for healing spinal discs, as well. In a two-part technique created by researchers at Cornell University, hyaluronic acid gel is used to reinflate the center of the disc, and the collagen gel then seals it up.

And the collagen is special, too. Over the past 10 years, this team developed the collagen themselves. It's "photoactive," so all they have to do is shine light on the gel to activate it. Once solidified, the gel offers a more "fertile ground" for growing new tissue.

The previous treatment options for herniated discs included surgically sewing up the still deflated disc or refilling the disc with a gel but not sealing it, risking future leaks. But with this new approach, both of those techniques are combined for a more effective option. The full and patched disc is able to maintain its function and won't collapse or leak again.

Lawrence Bonassar, Ph.D., professor at Cornell and lead researcher, notes that this new approach could be a game-changer for the 3 million dealing with herniated discs. "We now have potentially a new option for them, other than walking around with a big hole in their intervertebral disc and hoping that it doesn't re-herniate or continue to degenerate. And we can fully restore the mechanical competence of the disc."

And last but not least, it's worth noting that this promising treatment takes only five to 10 minutes, and the team hopes they can apply their findings to other disc issues like degeneration. In the meantime, if a herniated disc has got you down, give these five acupressure techniques for low-back pain a try. (And you might want to avoid these yoga poses.)

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