Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy
Benefits of Spinal Decompression
Back pain is incredibly debilitating, painful, and affects nearly every single part of your life. When left untreated it can result in serious and long-lasting complications. The good news is that many back problems can be treated successfully and effectively with spinal decompression therapy.
Before we look deeper into the benefits of spinal decompression, let’s talk about what it is, and what’s involved.
What is Spinal Decompression?
Spinal decompression releases pressure on the spinal cord or on compressed nerves running through the spinal column. The decompression stretches the spine which takes pressure off discs and nerves.
Spinal discs, which are the soft cushions between the spinal joints, are most often affected by spinal trauma or misuse. The next most common cause of spinal pain is compressed nerves, which may be a result of spinal misalignment or related to disc damage.
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What Types of Conditions Can be Treated with Spinal Decompression?
Spinal decompression can help in a range of back and neck conditions, particularly disc and nerve damage. It is most effective in cases of herniated, protruding, or bulging discs. Fortunately, these conditions can be accurately diagnosed with an MRI.
Another condition that shows positive results from decompression therapy is compressed or pinched nerves. Spinal radiculopathy, commonly known as a pinched nerve, is a condition where the pain from a compressed nerve in the spine radiates out along the course of the nerve. This may result in numbness, tingling, or weakness in an adjacent limb, for example, arms, legs, or feet. The mechanical pressure on pinched and compressed nerves is often a result of disc damage, poor muscle use, or a posture-induced compression. Decompression frees the pressure on areas between the discs, spine, and the nerve exit points which helps to heal affected nerves.
Patients with several other conditions may benefit from spinal decompression therapy as well. Myelopathy or compression trauma can be treated well with spinal decompression. Claudication or impingement and inflammation of nerves caused by stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal cord has also been known to respond to these treatments. Sciatica is caused by a pinched sciatic nerve, which responds the same way as radiculopathy does to spinal decompression.
Decompression has been found to be beneficial when other methods of manipulation or physical therapy have not shown results.
What is Spinal Decompression Therapy?
For complaints of compression, disc damage, or pinched nerves, non-surgical decompression therapy holds significant benefits and is a much simpler, more pleasant, safer, and less costly alternative to surgery.
Spinal decompression therapy is a non-surgical approach to treating spinal compression complaints by manipulation and traction. Traction aims to provide natural decompression of the spine by applying a gentle series of tensile forces or stretching to the spine. Manipulation of spinal joints aims to free trapped nerves and realign the spinal column, to reduce pain and restore motion.
What is Involved with Spinal Decompression Therapy?
The basis of non-surgical spinal decompression treatment is the repeated application of traction which gently stretches the spine. Spinal decompression traction applies pressure (in tension) between the upper torso or neck and the pelvis or lumbar spine area.
The traction pressures may be motorized, where the procedure is computer controlled by a specially designed electronic traction bed and harness. The computer program applies a series of calculated pressures directly to the harness to effect decompression. Programs can be modified to suit patients’ specific complaints.
Traction applied in decompression treatments can also be gravity based, manual, or mechanical. Gravity-based equipment can be used effectively to stretch and decompress the spine, and simple exercises can even be designed for home use. Manual traction is a process of physical stretching and flexing from hands-on techniques that a physiotherapist or chiropractor applies. Mechanical traction usually involves a specially designed table or bench which applies then retracts pressures based on springs and weights.
Manipulation of joints may be included in spinal decompression therapy to assist with freeing trapped nerves, or it may be a complementary procedure.
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Stages of Spinal Decompression Therapy
Spinal decompression therapy has three phases.
- Treatment or Healing Phase
Cyclic stretching is applied in the affected area to reduce pain and restore mobility. The degree of stretching and the area stretched will depend on the specific problem.
- Stabilization and Strengthening
Stabilization aims to ensure the healing process will be sustained. At this point, exercises can be added to aid continued improvement.
- Support and Prevention
Final decompression treatments will return muscles to their self-sustaining state, and include a review of the causes of damage, with continued stretching and core strengthening exercises for preventing a repeat injury.
What Techniques are Available in Spinal Decompression Therapy?
Decompression Traction Systems: There are a variety of different and complex computer operated machines available for decompression treatments. These machines can be rather costly. However, treatments are very comprehensive, including steadily increasing pressures to slowly improve the degree of stretch, with built-in feedback from resistance forces.
All decompression treatment methods should be combined with a proper decompression treatment strategy.
How Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Work?
The gentle stretching action applied by spinal decompression therapy removes pressure from the spinal discs. This action aims to bring about the following benefits:
- Enhances the flow of nutrients into discs to help them heal
- Helps discs retract and realign
- Relieves the pressure from misaligned discs or joints causing aggravation to nerves
When there is excessive compression on the spine, essential nutrients which normally flow into the spinal discs to keep them healthy are blocked. This means discs will continue to become inflamed, and the pressure will become worse. Nerve pressure and aggravation will continue to get worse resulting in more severe pain, which can reduce mobility and affect limbs.
The action of spinal decompression relieves pressure and starts the natural healing process by restoring the flow of healing nutrients, water, and oxygen to the disc through a process called imbibing.
The difference between spinal decompression and straight traction is that it involves repeated cycles and stretching, not just the application of weight. Through repeated cycles, the discs gain strength.
Causes of Spinal Compression
When we’re young, our spinal discs are bouncy water-filled sacks. Aging and the continual effects of gravity, and specific postures or repetitive movements drain discs of their moisture and leave them prone to damage and inflammation. Sitting for long periods in certain postures can compress lumbar areas, which is why many office workers and drivers have severe lower back pain.
Any type of spinal decompression will begin to rejuvenate discs and allow them to refill with vital nutrients and moisture. This can be initiated with simple exercises such as lying over a yoga block or rocking in a fetal position.
Healing Effect of Spinal Decompression
When the spine is allowed to naturally (as opposed to surgically) stretch and realign, the natural flow of fluid is promoted, and spinal discs start to heal. With spinal stretching, nerve pathways become less stressed and also start to heal. Spinal column alignment through the axial tension helps improve effects of stenosis. The nutrient exchange promoted by reduced pressure on spinal discs can provide an analgesic effect, which is the mechanism that helps with immediate pain relief in many cases.
When is Spinal Decompression Therapy Not Recommended?
Spinal decompression therapy is not recommended for people who have:
- Spinal implants or spinal fusion;
- Breaks or fractures in the spinal bones;
Spinal decompression is also not recommended for pregnant women.
How Long Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Last
Typically, 10 to 20 sessions are needed, sometimes more. Each session lasts from 20 minutes to an hour. Benefits are usually felt immediately, or at least by the fifth session. It’s important to continue treatment to completion for full healing, combined with an exercise and prevention strategy.
Spinal decompression, although highly successful typically in around 80-90% of cases, is not for everyone, and if any discomfort or pain results, or no improvement at all, this may mean there is another cause for your back pain.
Spinal decompression therapy works extremely well for disc and nerve problems; however, if there is another reason for the pain, for example, bone growth, as discussed under spinal decompression surgery, it may not work.
Advantages of Spinal Decompression Therapy
Spinal decompression therapy provides the following benefits over other treatment options:
- It’s non-surgical and has far less risk than surgical alternatives.
- There is some risk of further aggravation of discs or nerves in decompression treatments; however, in surgical procedures there is a risk of permanent spinal damage or even death.
- It’s relatively painless, and usually results in immediate pain relief.
- There have been clinical tests that showed significant disc recovery even after simple stretching. The repetitive action of decompression treatments will in many cases help alleviate pain quickly and effectively. This often makes it unnecessary to take pain relief drugs that can have very harmful side-effects.
- The pressure relief and fluid replacement help natural healing of discs and nerves.
- To heal themselves, the discs and nerves around the spine need to have a low-stress and highly fluid environment. When nutrients are allowed to flow back into the discs, their natural healing process will start.
- It can relieve pressure around nerves which also will result in healing and pain relief.
- Nerve pain results primarily from excessive mechanical pressure in areas where there should not be. Decompression reduces that pressure and helps initiate the healing process.
- It helps restore spinal alignment.
- Repeated poor posture, misuse of the spine in exercise or work, or spinal trauma can leave joints resting in an alignment which causes nerve or disc damage. Direct axial tension and flexure of the spine in spinal decompression treatments helps straighten the vertebral pathways and return them to their correct and intended positions.
- Helps restore overall health to your spine.
- A correctly aligned, fully stretched and hydrated spine is essential for overall back health. Spinal compression is a natural result of our environment for most of us. Decompression helps to return the spine to close to the original state before the process of environmental damage.
- Spinal decompression therapy is much cheaper than surgery.
- It is one of the most proven non-surgical methods available.
- Not all manipulation techniques have clear clinical results, whereas there have been proven results in clinical tests for spinal decompression methods. These results are not conclusive as it is challenging to gain enough data or conduct double-blind studies, but they do indicate that decompression therapy shows effective results.
Benefits from Regular Spinal Decompression
When healing is complete, spinal decompression should be considered as a maintenance exercise, especially in patients with repeat back pain syndrome. Regular decompressions will help keep discs hydrated and keep the patient mobile and pain-free.
For more information about Spinal Decompression Therapy.
Summary of the Benefits of Spinal Decompression
If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, especially if it is diagnosed as related to either a damaged disc, pinched nerve, or compression trauma, spinal decompression is a simple, painless, and in most cases very effective way to realign your spine, reduce stress, and promote natural healing of the discs and nerves.
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