Spinal Decompression

Non-surgical spinal decompression is a relatively new therapy for back pain that utilizes a motorized traction device to stretch the spine little by little. Traction, in fact, has been used to treat back pain for many years, but the new spinal decompression tables are different because they contain an onboard computer. The traction microscopically separates the vertebrae, relieving pressure on the spinal disks and nerves. It is used to treat herniated disks, pinched nerves, arm and leg pain, degenerative disk disease, lower back pain and neck pain.

How does non-surgical spinal decompression work?

Spinal decompression therapy is usually provided by a chiropractor. Patients remain fully clothed for treatment. To begin, they may lie down on their backs or stomachs on a padded decompression table, and then they are comfortably strapped in around the waist and chest. The table is controlled with a computer, which allows the therapist to program the decompression table individually for each patient, stretching the spine with precisely calculated forces and angles.

Therapy sessions typically last for about 45 minutes, during which the patient undergoes alternating periods of distraction (stretching) and relaxation. During the distraction phases, the vertebrae are gently separated from each other, which causes a “vacuum effect” inside of the spinal disks (the soft, rubbery cushions between the bones of the spine). The doctor may also use an articulating decompression system to fine-tune the patient’s posture during the session in order to treat all areas of the spine. The therapy sessions tend to be comfortable, and in some cases, patients experience immediate pain relief.

Patients generally receive a total of 20 to 28 treatments for 4 to 6 weeks. Treatment may also be combined with electric stimulation, ultrasound, heat, and cold therapies. Over this period of time, herniated discs may actually retract. Using the decompression table to gently separate the spine in this way also allows oxygen and other nutrients to flow into the disks and promotes healing. Patients may also be prescribed exercises to perform during and after the program.

How effective is spinal decompression?

Current research on spinal decompression is limited, and more research is needed. In general, traction is not considered to be a highly effective therapy for back pain. However, many patients have found relief through this spinal decompression, and the American Spinal Decompression Association reports a “high success rate” with non-surgical spinal decompression therapy.

This form of therapy can be quite expensive, and it is typically not covered by insurance. When choosing any therapy for back pain, it is important for both patients and health care providers to consider all of their options.

Who is a good candidate for spinal decompression?

Your chiropractor will use a screening tool to determine whether or not spinal decompression may be helpful for you. Patients who are pregnant or have tumors, abdominal aortic aneurysms, fractures, spinal implants, or severe osteoporosis should not undergo spinal decompression.

You can find a doctor who has been certified to provide non-surgical spinal decompression through the American Spinal Decompression Association.

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