Spinal Decompression Therapy: Are You a Candidate?

Anyone who suffers from back pain secondary to herniated or bulging discs may be good candidates for spinal decompression therapy. Chiropractors and other healthcare practitioners that specialise in the musculoskeletal system can make the determination upon thorough assessment of the patient including history, physical examination and oftentimes imaging like X-rays or MRI. 

Spinal Decompression Therapy in a Nutshell

Also known as non-surgical spinal decompression (NSSD), spinal decompression therapy is a practice that makes use of special, computerised tables with delicate sensors to relieve pain. It works by creating a scenario where a negative pressure is created around the herniated or bulging disc, and tissue is slowly moved back into place until it heals. 

Spinal decompression therapy has been known to help patients who are suffering from debilitating pain brought about by herniated, degenerating, or bulging discs. Spinal decompression therapy is also used for treatment and pain management of diseased or injured spinal nerve roots, worn spinal joints, and sciatica.

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The treatment involves stretching the spine using a special spinal decompression table in order to create a negative pressure at the exact level(s) of disc injury. The negative pressure and space will help allow disc fluid to move back into place. As a result, the disc can receive more nutrients, allowing it to heal more quickly and effectively.

In essence, the ultimate goal of spinal decompression therapy is relieve chronic neck, arm, back, and leg pain and to rehabilitate the root source of said pain. Spinal decompression therapy is also known as non-surgical decompression therapy since it is a non-invasive, safe, and extremely effective alternative to spinal decompression surgery.

The difference between surgical and non-surgical spinal decompression is an important one as the former should often be considered as a last resort. The latter, on the other hand, is considered a safe treatment option for most patients with disc issues at any stage. 

Spinal Decompression Protocol

The right spinal decompression protocol for patients will depend on the symptoms experienced and nature of their condition. In most cases, spinal decompression patients go through anywhere around 10-20 sessions on the spinal decompression table over a period of 1-3 months. The number of sessions will also depend on the diagnosis as well as the patient’s response to the treatment. When needed, follow up treatments may also be prescribed to help manage the pain and aid full rehabilitation. Additional treatments may also be recommended along with the spinal decompression therapy such as chiropractic adjustments, soft tissue rehabilitation and specific exercises. 

The initial visit to a chiropractor can help determine if an individual is a good candidate for the therapy or not. Initial analysis will also include a review of the patient’s history, including MRI or X-ray results when available. 

Once it has been determined that the patient is a good candidate for spinal decompression therapy, a decompression protocol designed specifically for the patient’s diagnosis will be created.

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Each spinal decompression session will last around 15-20 minutes. During the session, patients are strapped into the table with the use of a specially designed pelvic  or neck harness depending on the area(s) being treated. For lumbar decompression, the body’s lower portion is moved in order to gently stretch and relax the spine. When the cervical herniated discs are decompressed, the body’s head/neck will be moved.

While spinal decompression therapy is often combined effectively with other conservative treatment options, there are also contraindications for this type of therapy. Some of the contraindications include:

  • Broken vertebrae
  • Spinal tumor
  • Osteoporosis (at certain areas and if too severe)
  • Pregnancy
  • Metastasised cancer
  • Spinal fusion (depending on the levels involved)
  • Patients with spinal implant or artificial discs

It is critical therefore that patients are examined fully and the medical and health histories have been taken into account prior to starting spinal decompression therapy.

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