Spinal Decompression is a non-invasive approach to treating disc pain from herniations, bulges, arthritis, severe degeneration or whip lash injury. It is a non-surgical, cost effective approach that requires no down time. There are no drugs, no needles, and the procedure is often painless.
Who needs Spinal Decompression?
There are many people that suffer from serious pain in the neck and their back. Sometimes this pain is accompanied by numbness, tingling (pins and needles), extreme weakness and an overall reduction in the normal function of their arms and legs. The symptoms can be so severe and debilitating that it effects everything, including getting dressed in the morning, sleeping, eating, sitting and standing. Some people even lose their jobs the problem becomes so severe.
Think of the disc like a jelly doughnut. Inside of the doughnut you have a jelly filling, just like a disc does. Most problems in the arms and legs occur when the disc starts breaking down and the jelly in the center is allowed to move outward towards the spinal cord and the nerve roots. The jelly part is called the nucleus pulposus, and the outer part that keeps the jelly in is called the annular fibers. When the outer fibers break down and the center part of the disc moves out, it occupies the same space as the nerve and causes pain, weakness, numbness and all the other symptoms we’ve talked about. For some people, these symptoms can be life altering.
So what is Spinal Decompression?
Most people ask me… can I really avoid getting surgery? Most people don’t want the invasive, painful surgeries that leave them down for 6-12 weeks and then physical therapy for 4-12 weeks after that. My answer to most people is yes, you can avoid surgery. So does spinal decompression work… yes, but results may vary.
Spinal Decompression is the result of traction when negative pressure is created within the disc during traction. This action creates a vacuum that works to “suck the jelly back inside of the doughnut.” Today, there are many different kinds of “traction” available. One very common type of traction is known as intersegmental traction, and usually looks like a “roller table.” Most physical therapists and chiropractors have some version of intersegmental traction in their office. Spinal Decompression is not a modality or a “therapy” though, so I don’t want you to get confused between the two.
With intersegmental traction, the person will often lay on their back and have their head on a pillow. Then, the table is set to a varying degree of pressure depending on the comfort level of the patient and a bar will gently roll up and down the spine for 5-25 minutes. This roller bar gently opens the joints up and stretches the spinal muscles. Intersegmental traction is wonderful to help reduce stress on the spine and spinal muscles, but it does not create that “vacuum” effect caused by the negative pressure that the Spinal Decompression creates.
The difference between intersegmental traction and spinal decompression is very large. They work to accomplish two different things and produce completely different results. Also take note that most intersegmental traction tables provide traction in the vertical plane, going up and down. The spinal decompression machines provide traction in the horizontal plane, also known as long axis traction. This long axis traction is what allows the negative pressure to be created. These machines are very highly sophisticated and provide just the right amount of pressure at just the right angle to allow the disc to move back into the center .
So when this negative pressure is created and we get the “vacuum” effect on the center of the disc (the jelly), we can get the disc to move away from the nerve. When this happens, we see a dramatic difference in symptoms such as neck, back, arm and leg pain. This allows a true, permanent correction of the disc.
So, does Spinal Decompression really work?
The resounding answer is yes. There are a lot of alternatives that you can try first. These can be injections (usually corticosteroids), drugs and pain killers, physical therapy and chiropractic. Most of these are temporary fixes for disc problems. You can strengthen the muscle, move the bone and mask the pain, but that disc will still always be right where it’s at. If any or all of these treatments have failed you, then you could be a good candidate for spinal decompression.
Now, if surgery is an option you’re considering, let me explain what you’ll go through a little bit. First, most surgeries will try and do two things. First, the “jelly” of the disc that is interfering with the nerve is relieved by cutting or shaving that part down. They will also try and cut the bone to open up the space and take pressure off the nerve. Sometimes they’ll do a laminectomy or a complete discectomy (ectomy means to remove). When they do a discectomy, they’ll cut the entire disc out and will usually put two bolts into your vertebra to fuse them together. Based on the current literature, there is a 30-40% success rate with this type of surgery. When either a laminectomy or discetomy is performed, they usually cost a substantial amount of money. Most often, insurance will only pick up a portion of the bill, leaving the rest for the patient. Because these surgeries can cost upwards of $25,000-$60,000, the portion that is left is sometimes in excess of $12,000-$17,000. There are certain cases where surgery is the only available option and even spinal decompression will not be able to help you.
If a person has tried to use physical therapy, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, back injections, chiropractic, ultrasound and they haven’t seen any sort of improvement, then surgery could be the only answer. Your surgeon or orthopedic doctor will not cut or do a surgery unless they have exhausted physical therapy and chiropractic and these options have failed. Your chiropractic physician will also not perform the spinal decompression if you are not a good candidate or have a condition that is contraindicated for treatment.
Spinal Decompression can cost anywhere from $150-$450 per visit and it usually takes about 20-24 visits to achieve the treatment goals. Essentially, $4,000-$8,000 is the cost for Spinal Decompression depending on your location. The advantages are; no surgery, no discomfort, no down time as with surgery, and the results are very good (92% success with the latest research coming out), and for much less money.
If you have tried chiropractic manipulations, physical therapy, drugs, and you are at the end of your rope and do not want surgery, or have experienced a failed surgery, then Spinal Decompression may be the treatment of choice.
As always, just because this is a non-surgical approach, does not mean that there are not risks. Your chiropractic physician should do a thorough history and exam to rule out specific conditions that do not allow spinal decompression to be performed. Also, you may need x-rays and/or an MRI before having Spinal Decompression.
Always consult your primary care physician before initiating any treatment, whether that be in an office or at home.
To schedule a free consultation to see if you could be a candidate for Spinal Decompression, call 616-458-8063.