What is Spinal Decompression

Anyone who has experienced back pain, or pain that is related to back pain, understands how much it can get in the way of one’s daily life. Most find it difficult to think about anything other than the pain – and are looking for anyway to get rid of it for good.

After searching for pain relief options, many decide to try spinal decompression therapy. There are two varieties of spinal decompression therapy – nonsurgical and surgical. The following information will help you decide if you are an ideal candidate for spinal decompression therapy along with details of what it entails.

Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression Explained

Nonsurgical spinal decompression is a manner of powered traction that can help reduce or get rid of back pain. Spinal decompression is performed through gentle spinal stretches. The stretches are meant to manipulate the spine’s strength and position. The goal is to remove pressure off of the spinal disks, which can be thought of as cushions that are found between the spinal bones.

Advocates of nonsurgical spinal decompression believe that, with a matter of time, the reversal pressure that comes from this type of therapy can result in retracted herniated or bulging disks. This allows for the spinal nerves and various structures to be free from pressure, which promotes healthy flow of oxygen, nutrients and water into the disks in order to help them heal.

Many healthcare professionals suggest nonsurgical spinal decompression for cases such as:

  • Sciatica

  • Neck pain

  • Back pain

  • Herniated disks

  • Bulging disks

  • Degenerative disk disease

  • Posterior facet syndrome (worn out spinal joints)

  • Radiculopathy (diseased or damaged spinal nerve roots)

Further research is required in order to determine the efficiency and safety of nonsurgical spinal decompression. Researchers must compare various low-cost alternatives with spinal decompression to find out if it is an efficient procedure.  Some of the alternatives that spinal decompression should be compared with include:

  • Physical therapy

  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

  • Exercise

  • Rest

  • Bracing

  • Steroid injections

  • Acupuncture

  • Chiropractic

Performing Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression

The patient is completely clothed during a session of spinal decompression therapy. The doctor puts a harness around the patient’s pelvis and uses another around the trunk. The patient can either lay down on their back or face down on the designated table, with is controlled by a computer.

Then the doctor uses the computer to conduct a customized treatment that will treat each patient’s specific issues

Nonsurgical spinal decompression treatments generally take at least 30 minutes, with some going for as long as an hour. It is possible to go to up to 30 treatments in a period of one to two months. Prior to, or following, the therapy, some patients may also receive other kinds of treatment, such as:

  • Ultrasound (this uses sound waves to create heat and accelerate healing)

  • Hot therapy

  • Cold therapy

  • Electrical stimulation (the electrical current from this procedure makes muscles contract)

Who Should Refrain From Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression

You should always check with a doctor before trying nonsurgical spinal decompression. Pregnant women should not have this type of surgery. There are also some conditions that indicate that you should not have nonsurgical spinal decompression, such as:

  • Tumor

  • Advanced osteoporosis

  • Fracture

  • Metal spinal implants

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm

  • Broken vertebrae

  • Failed back surgery

  • Artificial spinal disc or implants

  • Spinal fusion

  • Ankylosing spondylitis

  • Spondylolisthesis

  • Osteoporosis

  • Spinal infection

Surgical Spinal Decompression Explained

Back pain can also be treated by surgical spinal decompression, though this is often used if other treatments have failed to improve symptoms. When other types of treatments fail to work, doctors usually recommend surgical spinal decompression for bone growths, ruptured or bulging disks and a variety of other spinal issues. Surgery can help alleviate symptoms from nerve or spinal cord pressure, such as:

  • Weakness

  • Numbness

  • Pain

  • Tingling

Varieties of Spinal Decompression Surgery

It is possible for doctors to recommend one, or several, kinds of surgeries to get rid of back pain and remove spinal pressure. Patients may also require spinal fusion in order to stabilize their spine. The most typical types of surgery that are recommended for back and spinal issues include:

  • Laminectomy (or Laminotomy) – During this type of surgery, the surgeon takes a small part of bone (typically from the whole bone arch or a segment of it) in order to increase the spinal canal size and alleviate pressure.

  • Foraminectomy (or Foraminotomy) – The surgeon gets rid of bone and tissues to create more space for nerve root openings.

  • Diskectomy – In this kind of surgery, a segment of the disk is taken in order to help alleviate nerve pressure.

  • Corpectomy – During this kind of surgery, the surgeon gets rid of the disk that is situated between the vertebrae.

  • Osteophyte removal – This procedure removes bony growths.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Spinal Decompression Surgery?

There are risks associated with all types of surgery. However, the most typical risks that are associated with spinal decompression surgery include:

  • Blood clots

  • Infection

  • Anesthesia allergic reactions

  • Bleeding

  • Tissue damage

  • Nerve damage

In some cases, the surgery does not treat the back pain problems. It is still hard to determine which individuals can reap the most benefits from spinal decompression surgery.

Evidence For Spinal Decompression Therapy

Even though the theory involving spinal decompression has reached a wide and valid acceptance, it is still lacking the evidence that is required to deem it as the most effective procedure. There are also risks associated with the therapy.

There is currently not enough evidence to show that spinal decompression therapy is the most effective method of treating back pain. There is also a lack of evidence regarding whether it is more effective that other costly types of treatment that are used to treat herniated discs or back pain. (http://www.chirobase.org/06DD/vaxd/vaxd.html)

The Cost Of Spinal Decompression Therapy

Even though spinal decompression therapy may be suggested as a possible treatment for back pain conditions, it is entirely up to the patient if they would like to proceed with the treatment or not. Even though the risk is considerably low, there is not enough evidence to support many patients decision.

Spinal decompression therapy tends to consist of at least 15 treatments in a series, though some patients may need up to 30. Each treatment takes at least 30 minutes and they all take place in a matter of one to two months. The sessions take place in the office of the practitioner.

The price of each individual session can be as much as $200 and as little as $30. Therefore, the entire treatment can cost anywhere from $450 to $6,000.  Some insurance companies will cover traction, but they often refrain from covering spinal decompression therapy (even though the treatments are very similar).

Spinal decompression therapy sessions can also include a number of additional treatment necessities, including ultrasound, hot/cold therapy and electrical stimulation. These procedures can take place prior to or following the procedure.

Other treatments during spinal decompression therapy can include:

  • Rest

  • Exercise

  • Nutritional supplements

  • Lots of water

How Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Differ From Other Types of Traction?

Traction has been around for more than 1,000 years; so many people are more familiar with it than spinal decompression therapy. Traction defines the procedure of applying steady for on a patient’s body, which helps to relieve pressure on the body’s muscles, joints and other areas. An example of this is when an inversion table is used so that the patient can hang upside down, which helps with traction in the spine.

Inverse tables are commonly used for traction and only require body weight to alleviate the patient’s symptoms. Traction is not recommended for individuals with:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart problems

  • Vascular disease

  • Other health issues

Spinal decompression uses a new, updated type of traction by using the Triton DTS. The Triton DTS (Decompression Traction System) utilizes computer technology to monitor and adjust variations of the traction pull on the spine. This helps keep the muscles in the body from creating an unwanted contraction reaction. The physical therapist controls the levels of tension prior to reaching the maximum amount. They also control the duration and frequency of the tensions.

What Happens During Spinal Decompression Therapy?

When you reach your practitioners clinic, you will be asked to lie down on the Triton DTS. Then the support system will be fitted around your body, which will help it to stabilize. The computerized system adjusts the distraction (pull angle). This allows exact spinal discs to be adjusted instead of all of them and helps alleviate symptoms and pain.

Whilst on the Triton DTS table, the computer creates an anti-gravity effect on the spine, which aids in moving herniated spinal disks to their original position and reduces pain and pressure. Spinal decompression therapy patients say that the treatment is painless and gentle. The only sensation patients claim to feel is a mild pulls at times.

They are perhaps the most comfortable and gentle of all back pain therapies and many patients fall asleep during the treatment.

Will Spinal Decompression Help Get Rid Of My Pain For Good?

Even though there is not enough evidence to make any exact claims, many patients around the world are experiencing positive reactions from spinal decompression therapy. The majority of patients experience relief after the series of treatments or at least much more manageable symptoms.

Along with spinal decompression therapy, patients should maintain a consistent exercise regime to keep the spine healthy and lessen the chance of reoccurrence. Home care exercises are always vital in any type of rehabilitation.

Ryan Groelz

Ryan Groelz

Dr. Ryan Groelz, DC is a chiropractor at Rock Creek Spine & Rehabilitation Center. Located at 413 Summit Boulevard #101, Broomfield, CO 80021. 303-499-6565