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  • Dr. James Fonner

Spinal Decompression Therapy

Spinal decompression therapy focuses on stretching the spine. Usually, a traction device is used, but there are other motorized devices. The goal of spinal decompression is to relieve leg and back pain.

Most doctors call the procedure 'nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy,' which is different than the surgical spinal decompression. Surgical options can include microdiscectomy and laminectomy. There may be times where physical therapy doesn't work, and surgery becomes necessary. However, it's always a good idea to start with non-surgical therapy options before moving to more serious ones.

This article gives an overview of the nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy treatment and how it may treat neck pain, back pains, and leg pain.

The theory behind spinal decompression

The Theory of Spinal Decompression

A spinal decompression device uses the same principle for spinal traction. Chiropractors and osteopaths have used decompression for many years. These trained health professionals understand the risks and benefits and can help their patients understand whether or not this non-surgical therapy is right for them. It may help reduce pains and inflammation in the lower back and prevent surgery from being necessary, especially if it is a stress-induced back pain.

Both spinal decompression therapy and traction are applied with the ultimate goal of relieving pain to promote a better healing environment for degenerating, bulging, or herniated discs. Nonsurgical spinal decompression is one type of traction therapy that's applied to the spine to try and bring about various theoretical benefits. Decompression may create negative pressure in the area to promote the repositioning or retraction of the herniated discs. Also, it produces lower negative pressure in the disc that can cause more healing nutrients to come into the area and work to fix the problem.

What Are Bulging or Herniated Discs?

There are many terms used to describe disc pain and spinal disc problems. Each one may be used interchangeably at times. Bulging or herniated discs and pinched nerves are the two most popular. This medical diagnosis is used to identify the underlying causes of neck pain, back pain, and pain in the legs. There are two primary ways that a person's spinal disc can cause issues. These include:

Pinched Nerve

In most cases, the bulging or herniated disc isn't painful. However, the materials leak out of the disc and can inflame, pinch, or irritate the nearby nerve. This causes radicular pain, which are shooting, sharp pains radiating to other body parts. This may be from the lower back to the leg or go from the shoulder down an arm. Sciatica is the top pinched nerve and causes leg pain.

Disc Pains

Spinal discs could be the pain source if it degenerates or dehydrates to where it causes instability or pains in the spinal segment. This is called degenerative disc disease. With it, the patient feels a low-level, chronic pain in or around the vertebrate and may experience more severe pains. A bulging or herniated disc often happens in the neck or lower back and rarely occurs in the mid-back.

Clinical Evidence

The fundamental theory for nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy is accepted as valid in most healthcare fields. However, there isn't much evidence to support decompression therapy as being beneficial. There could also be a few risks involved.

Some studies have shown that spinal decompression therapy is beneficial, but they haven't used control groups. Those that do often conclude that mechanical spinal decompression therapy is no better than the sham decompression. Therefore, there's insufficient evidence that any nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy is effective or more/less effective than other manual methods for treating a herniated disc or back pain.

Reviews of popular medical literature to date have indicated that many clinical trials have examined the efficiency of nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy and traction. They're all lacking in at least one area. For example, there may not be enough subjects to make a valid conclusion, there isn't a comparison with a placebo group, or there's no binding (the provider or patient isn't aware of the treatment being given.

Potential Benefits of Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression Therapy

Everyone is going to experience pains in the low back or their necks at times. However, when the discomfort causes the pain to radiate to the shoulder, leg, or arm, a herniated or degenerated disc might be the culprit because it compresses the nerve. Nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy may help to relieve that pressure causing the pain.

Decompression is a non-invasive treatment option for the spine that uses a motorized table and may help relieve pressure or provide negative pressure. It puts space back into the spinal discs and promotes the natural healing process. Once pressure from the area is relieved or decreased, it often returns to the normal position and stops the pain.

The benefits could be astronomical for those who suffer spine pains. Most people find that it's very effective. If surgery is a real possibility because of the degenerated disc, nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy may help the person avoid that route. Success is often higher for patients with this problem, and they are going to see some relief.

Ultimately, the idea for nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy is to provide pain relief without being invasive (through surgery), similar to the Graston tool or technique. The person lies on a table and is strapped to it at the waist or from the base of the skull. Then, the device moves the spine while the patient relaxes. No medication is necessary, and there's no recovery time needed as with surgery.

Some people can experience long-term results from one nonsurgical spinal decompression treatment. However, it's a process. Depending on the area to be treated (spine or neck), it may take up to 30 minutes for a session. Patients are likely to require six to eight sessions before they start to feel less pain. Each 'pull' of the device forces nutrients back into the discs to rehydrate them. Plus, the herniation gets pulled back into it. When it's performed consistently, it may help in the long-term.

With this non-surgical spinal decompression therapy, the posture is also improved. Most of the pain people face in the low back is caused by poor posture. This affects spinal alignment. Since spinal decompression may remove the nerve interference, most patients have a dramatic improvement in their posture.

Potential Risks of Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression Therapy

As with any therapy, there is a risk involved, but it seems to be minor when compared to having surgery. Non-surgical spinal decompression is gentle and may relieve back pain. There's a computer that controls the force applied, and there are periods of relaxation. Therefore, the spine isn't 'forced' too quickly to release the pressure.

While spinal decompression therapy isn't as invasive as surgery options, there may be some risks involved. People often require X-rays or an MRI to find out if nonsurgical spinal decompression is right for them.

Ultimately, the risks of spinal decompression therapy are for:

  • Pregnant women (abdomen pressure)

  • People with severe nerve damage

  • Patients with spinal instability (severe degeneration of the spine or osteoporosis)

  • Those who have already had surgical spinal decompression and have screws or metal plates implanted into the bone

How spinal decompression works

How Spinal Decompression Works

With spinal decompression (the nonsurgical version), the spine gets stretched and relaxed. It's intermittent, so there are periods of relaxation and stretching, and the process is controlled. The theory here is that the motion can create a negative pressure within the discs. With spinal decompression, there are two benefits:

  1. Spinal decompression can pull the bulging or herniated disc materials back into it.

  2. Healing nutrients are allowed to pass into and through the area to provide a healing environment with spinal decompression therapy.

The Spinal Decompression Session

During the spinal decompression therapy session for back pain, the patient stays fully clothed and lies on a motorized table. The lower portion of it can and does move.

Typically, a harness is put around the hips and then attached to the table near the person's feet. Though the lower portion of it can move, the upper part stays stationary in the fixed position. Since the patient is strapped to the device, they cannot fall off the device while the lower portion slides back and forth. This is what provides the relaxation and traction for the spine and ultimately relieves back pain.

There is a primary difference between spinal decompression therapy and other treatments, and they all focus on the patient's position while on the table. With some devices, the patient lies face down and stays in a prone position. With others, they're in the supine or face-up position. There should be no pain during or after spinal decompression therapy. However, the patient's back is likely to feel stretched and worked slightly. Therefore, slight discomfort from the muscles and joints moving might be possible. Some chiropractic professionals may use heat and ice afterward to relieve some of this.

Spinal Decompression Costs and Treatment

The spine is an important part of the body. Nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy might be recommended as a potential treatment for various back pain conditions, including facet syndrome. However, as with all treatments, including traction, it's up to the patient to decide if it's best and most effective for their conditions and needs. While the risks are low, the advantages aren't established through health studies just yet.

Chiropractic treatments are becoming more popular and can reduce the symptoms of back pain. Bulging discs can be quite painful, and it may be prudent to decide beforehand. If the pressure hasn't gone away with other chiropractic options, it's still possible to use spinal decompression to relieve the pain. Most conditions react well to it, but it can take a few weeks to get any improvement.

Patients need to focus on how well they feel after each visit. Symptoms should go away after the spinal decompression therapy, but to fully relieve the pain, between 15 and 30 treatments are necessary. Each session can last up to 30 to 45 minutes, and it's going to take about four to six weeks. Spinal decompression is done in the chiropractic office.

The cost for spinal decompression varies based on various factors. For example, the chiropractic office's popularity and location can make a difference. Ultimately prices range from $30 to $200 a session. With the recommended treatment series of four to six weeks, costs can be anywhere from $400 to $6,000. However, if the treatment works and eases the conditions, the price might be worth it. Patients need to assess the risks and advantages to find out if it's a good choice for them.

Some insurance companies might cover spinal decompression therapy, but most of them only focus on traditional chiropractic traction, and decompression therapy isn't allowed, even though they're nearly identical. Something should be said for surgical spinal decompression; since it's a medical procedure in a hospital setting, most insurance companies cover all or part of this expense.

Spinal decompression sessions may also include additional treatment options. These can consist of hot and cold therapy, electric stimulation, and ultrasound. They can be applied after or during the spinal decompression therapy procedure.

Most chiropractic and medical professionals recommend drinking a half-gallon of water each day, resting throughout the day as needed, and taking nutritional supplements. The conditions utilized for spinal decompression may also require exercises to be performed at home to improve mobility and strength. It is important to talk to a medical doctor before visiting a chiropractic office. Each medical professional must be informed about the patient's overall health and treatment plan. This ensures that everyone works together to get the person back to good health. Since most studies show that spinal decompression may be beneficial, but it's not proven, it's important to find a series of treatments and procedures that can reduce back pain and relieve tension. This is ultimately going to help with the conditions listed for spinal decompression.

Potential Candidates for Spinal Decompression

The medical field is full of options, and most medical doctors turn to surgery as a first or second resort instead of the last thing. While the health of the patient is essential, some people don't believe that chiropractic care is the right choice. They may be fearful of adding it to the health care field. More study is definitely needed to ensure that spinal decompression is a good thing. However, the health of the spine is essential, and when there is pressure on the vertebrae, it can cause significant health concerns, such as back pain.

Spinal decompression is an alternative to surgery, and it's designed with the goal of preventing pains and promote healing of the spine. Typically, decompression of the spine is essential for the overall health and well-being of the patient. Though medical professionals might fight about it at one time or another, the advantages are prevalent, even if they're not proven.

Indications for Spinal Decompression Therapy

Spinal decompression is a broad term. Decompression is typically recommended as an alternative treatment to surgery to reduce pressure in the back, sciatica, and neck. Almost anyone can use spinal decompression to reduce the pressure in those areas.

Who Isn't a Candidate for Spinal Decompression

Decompression to stretch the spine isn't appropriate for some people for pressure relief. For example, spinal decompression shouldn't be used for those with spinal fusions, broken vertebrae, or those with implants in the spine.

Also, spinal decompression isn't the right treatment for those with:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis

  • Spine tumors

  • Spine infections

  • Osteoporosis

  • A condition that compromises spine integrity

Surgical Spinal Decompression

What is Surgical Spinal Decompression, and When Is It Needed?

Patients may need surgical spinal decompression or back surgery treatment to provide more pressure relief. Surgical spinal decompression can include different things, such as spinal fusion. Ultimately, health professionals, such as doctors, want to prevent surgery from being necessary, so spinal decompression might be the right choice to start with. Surgery is a serious treatment and may have many risks associated with it, whereas spinal decompression is less invasive.


When someone has back pain, they may try any treatment option to help them. Medical doctors often use medications and recommend surgery, but most patients want to find an alternative. Chiropractic treatment is available and works to use non-invasive procedures to reduce back pain and help patients feel better. This gives the spine the time it needs to heal well. Traction is a great way to reduce pressure in the spine, but spinal decompression does the same thing. Sometimes, it's cheaper than traction, and many medical professionals agree that it relieves pressure and promotes better health.

Someone suffering from a bulging disc or something else may want to consider this chiropractic treatment. It's going to relieve pressure and is much better than surgery. Still, traction isn't for everyone. Therefore, it's important to find the right medical professional to treat the condition and ease the symptoms. Through the study of chiropractic care, most health and medical professionals agree that spinal decompression is a way to help the spine and reduce pressure. In fact, surgery might be the first choice by a doctor, but the patient may want to try alternative routes, like visiting a Columbus personal injury chiropractor. The patient's health is the primary concern, so it is ultimately up to them. The spine is an important part of the body, and traction or spinal decompression may be a better option.

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