Spinal decompression therapy is a safe, non-surgical, and drug-free treatment method for patients who suffer from chronic neck and back pain which may or may not be caused by disc problems and other spine-related conditions.
Spinal decompression therapy aims to help patients who are suffering from some crippling pain due to bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs. It can also be used for the pain management and treatment of many causes of Sciatica, injured or diseased spinal nerve roots, and worn spinal joints.
The importance of choosing between surgical and non-surgical decompression therapy is essential to understand because surgical spinal procedures are often considered a last resort. Spinal decompression therapy is a safe treatment option at any stage of back pain.
How Does It Work?
In non-surgical spinal decompression therapy, the spine is stretched and relaxed alternatively in a controlled manner. The theory behind this procedure is that ‘this process creates negative pressure between the discs which is believed to have two potential benefits:
- It pulls the herniated or bulging disc material back into the disc.
- It promotes and facilitates the passage of healing nutrients into the disc leading to a better healing environment.
The computer uses precise calculations to create just the perfect amount of tension to achieve optimal results during the therapy. The decompression treatment gently lengthens and releases the spine through repetitive movements by the revolutionary Hill DT Spinal Decompression Table.
Decompression Therapy typically consists of a series of 15-30 treatments each lasting for about 30-45 minutes over 4-6 weeks. The sessions are conducted in the practitioner’s office.
The patient should not feel any pain during or after the decompression therapy, although they should feel a stretch in their spine.
About Decompression Sessions
A spinal decompression table is a primary tool used in non-surgical intervention options for spinal decompression therapy. There are two main types of spinal decompression tables:
- A table with a cable and pulley system that creates a generous pull on the patient’s body,
- Decompression tables that have an upper and lower body component, both of which move independently of each other
The second type of table is much more effective at preventing muscle guarding, hence it is vastly recommended for the best possible patient outcomes.
During the Spinal Decompression Therapy for low back pain (lumbar spine), the patient remains fully clothed and lies on a motorized table; the lower half of which is movable. A harness is positioned around the hips and is attached to the lower table close to the feet.
The upper part of the table remains fixed on its position throughout the procedure while the lower movable part, to which the patient is harnessed, slides back and forth to provide controlled traction and relaxation.
Once the patient is in place, the table program is enacted and the two parts of the table begin to pull apart from one another. The poundage of the pull depends on the type of decompression as well as the physical build of the patient and can range anywhere from just 5 pounds for a cervical decompression protocol to 100 pounds or more for lumbar decompression on a patient with a larger build.
How Do Some Therapies Differ?
One difference between various decompression therapies is the patient’s position on the table.
- Some devices place the patient in a PRONE position meaning that the patient lies face down on the table such as seen in VAX-D.
- Some devices have patients lie down in a SUPINE position that is patient lies face-up on the table. This is seen in DRX9000.
Sessions may include additional treatment styles such as Electric stimulation, Ultrasound, Cold therapy, Heat therapy that may be applied after or during the decompression procedure.
Recommendations may also include advising the patient to consume up to half a gallon of water daily. The patient is advised to rest, keep intake of nutritional supplements, and/or perform exercises at home to improve strength and mobility.
A patient undergoing spinal decompression therapy can expect to undergo at least twelve sessions on the decompression table, depending on the patient’s diagnosis and response to treatment excluding the follow-up treatments; that may be prescribed as per need for the pain management.
The cost of each session commonly ranges from $30 to $200 which means that a series of recommended treatments will typically cost around $450 to $6000; which is usually not covered by insurance in most countries.
Is There Clinical Evidence Behind Decompression Therapy?
While the fundamental theory of Spinal decompression is widely accepted as valid, there is a lack of evidence supporting this theory as being effective; if the potential risks are put under consideration.
The evidence to prove; whether spinal decompression therapy is as effective, more effective, or less effective than the less expensive manual methods; is very limited and hence, insufficient.
Spinal Decompression Therapy Program
The Spinal decompression therapy program incorporates the following five components:
- Spinal Decompression Therapy
As explained above in the article.
- Post Spinal Decompression Therapy
This is necessary to ensure that the target regions are fully relaxed and pre-conditioned for chiropractic manual treatment.
It may include massage therapy, dry needling, electro-stimulation, and cold laser. These further facilitate blood and nerve exchange into the decompressed region.
- Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic adjustments enhance the spinal decompression program by correcting the mechanical and structural misalignments. This leads to more effective treatment.
- Nutritional Recommendations
Supplements such as Arthrex, Glucosamine, essential vitamins not only support repair and restoration of the disc, they also play a role in decreasing inflammation which helps give the disc a better environment to heal.
- Posture Rehabilitation And Core Strengthening
Core exercises are often advised to alleviate the pressure and to strengthen the muscles and soft tissues holding up the spine. Specific exercises, posture rehabilitation, and yoga; unique to each individual; are part of the program.
Research reveals that continued improvement is seen up to four years following the Spinal Decompression Therapy Program. The success rate of this program is observed to range from 71% to 89%
When Is Spinal Decompression Therapy Indicated?
The indications for spinal decompression therapy are generally broad. This therapy is often recommended as an alternative treatment option for:
- Low back pain
- Sciatica (leg pain)
- Neck pain
All three of which may occur as a result of herniated discs, bulging discs, degenerated discs, pinched nerves, Facet syndrome, etc.
Contraindications For Spinal Decompression Therapy:-
Stretching the spine to provide relief from pain is not an appropriate approach for some patients including:
- Pregnant women
- Patients with broken vertebrae
- Patients with spinal fusion
- Patients with failed back surgery
- Patients with artificial discs and other implants in their spine
- Patients with Osteoporosis
- Patients having a spinal tumor
- Patients having ankylosing spondylitis
- Patients having osteopenia
- Any condition that requires the patient to take anticoagulation therapy ( blood thinners)
Patients with neck and arm pain may experience deterioration of their symptoms, in which case the decompression therapy should be immediately discontinued.
Author Michael Kaliko DC