Many people suffer from severe back pain caused by compressed nerves. Traditional treatments often involve prescription painkillers that mask the problem rather than eliminate it.

Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression therapy uses a specialized machine to gently stretch your spine. This changes the force and position of your spine, allowing herniated disks to retract and take pressure off nerves.

spinal decompression

What Is It?

The spine is compressed and worn down by the weight of the body as well as age-related spinal degeneration. These conditions can cause spinal discs to compress and herniate, resulting in pain and discomfort. Spinal decompression relieves these problems by allowing herniated or bulging disks to retract, taking pressure off nerves and other spinal structures. It can also help increase water, oxygen, and nutrient exchange between the discs.

Surgical spinal decompression is a last resort option for those who cannot find relief from nonsurgical treatment. The procedure is usually performed by a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon who has specialized training in complex spine surgery. It can be used to treat spinal stenosis, a herniated or slipped disc, spinal fractures, bone spurs, and other disorders that cause back or neck pain. It can also help those with a spinal cord injury that causes numbness in the arms or legs.

Nonsurgical spinal decompression is a series of sessions on a motorized traction table that gently stretches the spine. The stretching creates negative pressure in the spine, which helps herniated or bulging discs to retract and reduces pressure on spinal nerves. It can also increase water, oxygen, and nutrient exchange to the spine, promoting healing.

In surgical spinal decompression, the surgeon makes a small incision in the patient’s back and removes a section of the vertebrae that is causing pain. They may also use screws and connecting rods to connect the bones. The doctor might also add an extra piece of bone from another part of the body, such as the hip or a donated bone. More recently, synthetic (man-made) bone substitutes have been used.

After surgical spinal decompression, patients might need a physical therapist to regain strength, movement, and feeling in the injured area. They might also need a chiropractor or other spine specialists to perform spinal manipulations. Other treatments include acupuncture, which involves placing microscopic needles throughout the body to release natural pain-relieving chemicals; and spinal rehabilitation, which includes exercises that strengthen or mobilize the muscles in the affected area.

Nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy is often paired with chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, and electrical stimulation to provide a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all of the factors contributing to your pain. It can be completed in a few short weeks and is much less invasive than undergoing surgery.

How Does It Work?

During spinal decompression therapy, the spine goes through a sequence of movements. The purpose is to release tension on the spinal nerves, the backbone, and the facet joints. This will allow the discs in your neck and back to get back into place. This helps to ease the pain caused by herniated or bulging discs and it can also help with a slipped or pinched nerve. The goal is to relieve pain without the use of prescription medications or surgery.

The treatment is typically performed by a chiropractor or physical therapist. You will lie on a table that is outfitted with pulleys and weights. The doctor will then move the table to stretch or relax the spine. The traction is designed to create a negative pressure within the discs, which will then help herniated or bulging discs reposition themselves. It also allows for more blood flow and healing nutrients to reach the injured area of the spine.

If nonsurgical therapies don’t improve your symptoms, surgical spinal decompression may be recommended by your doctor. You may be a candidate for this treatment if you have spinal stenosis, a herniated or slipped disc, or if you have a bone tumor in the spine that is pressing on a nerve. In addition to surgical spinal decompression, you may also be a candidate for a nonsurgical treatment called lumbar microdiscectomy.

In this procedure, a surgeon removes a portion of the lamina, which is the backside of the spinal cord’s protective roof, and a portion of the vertebrae’s bony growths (osteophytes). This increases the space for the spinal nerves. It can be done in your upper or lower back (cervical or lumbar). It’s usually combined with spinal fusion, which is the fusing of two or more vertebrae to enhance stability. However, fusion eliminates the spine’s natural motion and may speed the degeneration of adjacent vertebrae. Another option is TOPS, a minimally invasive spinal decompression technique that preserves the spine’s natural motion and has shown better outcomes than fusion in global clinical studies. This treatment can reduce pain associated with herniated or bulging discs, sciatica, and thoracic kyphosis.

Does It Work For Me?

Your spine is a strong, flexible network of bones (vertebrae), ligaments, and spinal disks that provide support for your body. Spinal injuries or degeneration can cause pain by pressing on nerves or the spinal cord. Spinal decompression relieves this pressure to help ease your pain.

Nonsurgical spinal decompression works by gently stretching your spine. This change in force and position helps herniated discs retract, taking pressure off of nerves and other structures in the spine. It also helps promote the movement of water, oxygen, and nutrient-rich fluids into the discs. These fluids are needed for the disks to heal.

This treatment is very safe, noninvasive, and painless. It is an excellent option for people with chronic back pain who do not want to take addictive pain medications or undergo surgery. Most patients experience some relief from their back pain within a week of starting the therapy.

Spinal decompression can treat conditions that cause back pain, including herniated or bulging discs, sciatica, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disease of the spine. The goal of spinal decompression is to restore the normal curves of your spine and reduce pain, numbness, and weakness caused by these conditions.

Unlike over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, spinal decompression therapies address the root cause of your back pain and eliminate it. Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol), anti-inflammatories, and narcotics are used to control your symptoms, while spinal decompression therapies can provide long-term pain relief without the risk of addiction or side effects.

If over-the-counter medication and physical therapy do not improve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend spine surgery to ease the pain and pressure on your spinal cord or nerves. Surgical options include laminectomy, a procedure where the surgeon removes bone and thickened ligaments to expand the space for spinal nerves. Another option is corpectomy, where the surgeon removes part of a vertebral body and/or discs.

After undergoing spine surgery, it can be difficult to get herniated or bulging discs back to their correct positions. This is because your body becomes accustomed to the new alignment and sometimes continues to move the discs out of place. Spinal decompression therapy can help herniated or bulging discs return to their correct positions for long-term pain relief.

What Are The Risks?

Surgical spinal decompression can relieve pain, numbness, and weakness caused by herniated or compressed disks in your neck (cervical spine) or back (lumbar spine). This surgery is usually recommended when nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy, epidural steroid injections, and other medications do not relieve symptoms. Your doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical examination before suggesting spinal decompression surgery. You will also have diagnostic imaging tests such as a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to provide “pictures” of your spinal anatomy.

There is always a risk of infection following any operation. You can also have damage to nerves or the spinal cord which can cause numbness or weakness in your arms or legs. Your doctor may use screws or rods to hold your spine together. These can sometimes fail or break or cause injury to your other bones and muscles. Blood clots in your veins or lungs (DVT) are also possible. Surgical spinal decompression can also lead to the leaking of the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). Although this leak is rare it may require further surgery to repair.

Nonsurgical spinal decompression has few risks. You will most likely be able to return to your normal activities within a day or two, but you may need to avoid lifting heavy objects and strenuous exercise for several weeks.

You may experience pain and muscle spasms, but these should fade with time. If you’re a candidate for this treatment, tell your doctor about any other symptoms, such as weakness or numbness in your arms or legs.

Modern humans spend most of their lives sitting which can compress and wear down the spinal discs. Over time, this can lead to spinal stenosis and pain. Spinal decompression can reduce this pressure and help prevent or treat problems such as herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, spinal arthritis, and nerve compression. However, spinal decompression can be painful and is not a good solution for people who have severe back or neck injuries or conditions such as spinal fractures, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, diabetes, or inflammatory arthritis.