What Is A Spinal Decompression Table?

Innovative technology for better patient outcomes

All About the Spinal Decompression Table

When something's wrong in the human body, there's not always a quick fix. Many people suffer from back pain - in fact, 31 million Americans are experiencing pain in their lower back at any given time. But when they seek treatment, they often find temporary relief from symptoms when what they want is long-term healing.

Patients who suffer from the chronic pain associated with bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs may benefit from treatment using a spinal decompression table. This type of pain, which can manifest as back or neck pain itself as well as associated pain in the arms and legs, may have already been treated by traditional traction methods or even by spinal surgery to limited improvement. In these cases, a spinal decompression table that uses computerized sensors to perform stretching actions on the spine and promote healing can be uniquely effective.

But what is a spinal decompression table, and how it can be used to treat patients who have not been able to find relief in other ways?

What is Spinal Decompression Therapy?

Spinal decompression therapy, also known as non-surgical spinal decompression, is a practice that utilizes spinal decompression tables to relieve pain by creating a scenario in which bulging or herniated disc tissue is able to move back into place and heal, alleviating the pain this condition causes.

Spinal decompression therapy aims to help patients who suffer from debilitating pain due to bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs. It can also be used for the pain management and treatment of many causes of sciatica, injured or diseased spinal nerve roots, and worn spinal joints.

The therapy itself works to stretch the spine, using a spinal decompression table or other device, in order to create negative pressure and space within the disc to allow disc fluid to move back into place. This creates an environment in which the disc can receive more nutrients and therefore heal itself more quickly and effectively. The ultimate goal of spinal decompression therapy is to relieve the patient’s chronic back, arm, neck, and/or leg pain, and to heal the source of said pain.

Spinal decompression therapy is also referred to as non-surgical decompression therapy, since it is often used as a safe, affordable, and extremely effective alternative to spinal surgery. The distinction between surgical and non-surgical spinal decompression is an important one, as surgical spinal procedures are often considered a last option, while spinal decompression therapy is a safe treatment at any stage of back pain. The most common spinal decompression surgeries are laminectomy and microdiscectomy, which present a greater risk of complication or failure.

What is a Spinal Decompression Table?

A spinal decompression table is the main tool used in non-surgical spinal decompression therapy. There are two main types of spinal decompression tables: one with cable and pulley systems that create pull on the patient's body, and decompression tables that consist of an upper and lower body portion that move independently from one another. The latter type of table is much more effective at preventing muscle guarding, and is what we recommend for the best possible patient outcomes.


Patients are strapped to the table using a harness, with other props such as pillows used to keep the patient comfortable and the spine in the correct position for decompression. Once the patient is in place, the table program is enacted and the two parts of the table begin to pull apart from one another. The poundage of the pull depends on the type of decompression as well as the physicality of the patient and can range anywhere from just 5 pounds for a cervical decompression protocol to 100 pounds or more for lumbar decompression on a larger patient.

The difference between spinal decompression tables and other methods of decompression like inversion is the technology involved. The best spinal decompression tables include sensors that indicate whether a patient’s muscles are resisting the stretch being applied by the table. As the muscles resist, the table reduces the poundage of the pull until the muscles relax, then begins to pull again. By taking resistance into account, a decompression table is able to more effectively relieve pressure in the spine and ultimately provide relief.

How a Spinal Decompression Table Works

Spinal decompression tables use computerized technology to create negative intradiscal pressure in the spine. A decompression table has two parts which move independently of one another. During setup, a spinal decompression technician chooses a decompression program that is best suited to the patient’s needs. The right program for an individual will depend on that person’s diagnosis as well as how they have responded to previous treatments.

As the decompression table stretches the spine, negative pressure is created within the spinal discs, which can result in the retraction or repositioning of the disc material, leading to pain relief. In addition, the lower pressure within the disc can cause an influx of healing nutrients to the disc, to promote further relief even when the patient is not on the table.

One of the hurdles to effective decompression with manual techniques is the fact that the body naturally resists the stretch, known as muscle guarding. With a decompression table, sensors can detect when the patient’s muscles are guarding against the stretch and release the tension, ensuring that the maximum decompression is accomplished.

Spinal Decompression Protocol

The correct spinal decompression protocol for an individual will depend on the symptoms he or she is experiencing. Typically, spinal decompression patients can expect to go through at least 12 sessions on the decompression table, though depending on the patient’s diagnosis and response to the treatment, more sessions may be required. In addition, follow-up treatments may be prescribed as needed to manage pain.

A patient’s initial visit should determine whether he or she would be a good candidate for decompression therapy. An initial analysis should include a review of the patient’s history, including any available imaging such as x-rays and/or MRI results. If the patient is a good candidate, the doctor can put together a recommended decompression protocol designed for that specific patient and diagnosis.

Each spinal decompression table session is approximately 30 minutes in duration. During this session, the patient is strapped into the table using a pelvic harness. For lumbar decompression, the lower portion of the body will move to gently stretch and relax the spine based on computerized algorithms designed to maximize the stretch and minimize the body’s resistance to that stretch. For decompression of cervical herniated discs, the upper portion of the body will move.

An advanced decompression table, such as the HillDT Spinal Decompression Table, will be able to store patient profiles and protocols so that for each session, once the patient is positioned on the table, the push of a button will enact the correct stretching sequence.

Learn more about the Hill DT table here


Candidates for Spinal Decompression Therapy

Anyone suffering from back pain related to bulging or herniated discs may be a candidate for decompression therapy, but only a doctor of chiropractic or other healthcare practitioner specializing in the musculoskeletal system and trained as a decompression technician can make this determination upon assessing a patient. While many patients come to spinal decompression therapy after they have failed to find relief from other treatments, including surgery, this is not a prerequisite.

There are some contraindications for this type of therapy, including:

  • Pregnancy
  • Metastasized cancer
  • Spinal fusion
  • Broken vertebrae
  • Patients with artificial discs or other spinal implant
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal tumor

It is critical that patients are fully examined and a medical and health history taken prior to beginning treatment with a decompression table.

Spinal Decompression Therapy Results

As with any medical treatment, results for spinal decompression therapy will vary depending on the patient, the doctor, and the protocol used. Patients do not tend to feel a tremendous amount of relief after the first treatment. Rather, after several spinal decompression sessions, relief should be apparent. In some cases, patients may need to complete their entire treatment protocol before they feel complete relief from their symptoms.

Spinal Decompression Table Research

Research into spinal decompression therapy is ongoing, with a number of studies showing benefits to patients experiencing chronic or acute pain. For instance, a study from the Rio Grande Regional Hospital and Health Sciences Center and the University Texas showed:

The specific and important clinical action of decompression therapy that makes it effective.  Intradiscal pressure measurement was performed by connecting a cannula inserted into the patient's L4-L5 disc space to a pressure transducer. Spinal decompression was introduced and changes in pressure were recorded at a resting state and again while controlled tension was applied by the equipment. The results of this study indicate that it is possible to lower pressure in the nucleus pulposus of herniated lumbar discs to below -100 mm Hg when distraction tension is applied according to the protocol described for decompression therapy. The lowest intradiscal pressure measured during progressive traction was 40 mm Hg compared to 75 mm Hg resting supine.(2) Standard decompression therapy, therefore, differs from standard traction by creating a unique clinical circumstance of prolonged negative intradiscal pressure.

Lowering the pressure in a herniated disc is the objective way to measure whether decompression is working, since lower pressure means, by definition, less compression. When the pressure within a lumbar disc is lower, patients will experience less low-back pain.

In an outcome study from 1998, spinal decompression therapy was effective in 71% of cases, with patients reporting a decrease in pain to either 0 or 1 on a scale of 0 to 5.

Another low-back pain study found that patients with chronic pain experienced relief from spinal decompression therapy in as little as eight weeks. It is important to note that 80% of the patients in this particular study had been experiencing symptoms for more than 6 months and had tried at least two other interventions to relieve their pain before turning to a spinal decompression table.

Despite contradicting reports on the efficacy of spinal decompression therapy, there is clearly a segment of the population for whom a decompression table can relieve chronic pain where no other interventions have succeeded.

To learn more about how spinal decompression tables help patients get the results they need, you can download our case studies here:

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Spinal Decompression Table Alternatives

As with any healthcare issue, spinal decompression therapy with a decompression table is not the only option for herniated discs, facet syndrome, or other back pain issues. Indeed, many patients who benefit from spinal decompression therapy do so only after other options have failed to give them relief.

Following are some alternatives to spinal decompression therapy using a decompression table:

  • Invasive Surgery
  • Manual Chiropractic Manipulation
  • Physical Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Pharmaceutical intervention
  • Steroid injections

Depending on the patient and their condition, it is possible that these alternatives may not be effective. Only by knowing the patient's complete health history and doing a thorough evaluation of their current condition is it possible to recommend on a treatment approach.

Some healthcare providers who practice spinal decompression therapy will also prescribe other concurrent therapies, such as heat or cold therapy, exercise, stretching, nutritional plans, and more, which may help the patient achieve better outcomes.

Results for any spinal decompression therapy will vary depending on the patient as well as the practitioner. Further, the costs associated with each protocol depends on medical insurance coverage and the extent of treatment.

To learn more about how a spinal decompression table can help your patients get to pain-free, schedule a call with the HillDT team. Or, visit the product page to learn more:

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This page last updated for content accuracy on April 24, 2019