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
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?
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 painful 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 decompression table or other device, in order to create negative pressure and space for the disc fluid to move back into place. The ultimate goal of spinal decompression 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 most common spinal decompression surgeries are laminectomy and
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 consists 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 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
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, it will use a release and stretch program to ensure that the maximum decompression is accomplished.
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. Depending on the patient’s diagnosis, more sessions may be required.
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 cervical spine decompression, 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.
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 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:
It is critical that patients are fully examined and a medical and health history taken prior to beginning treatment with a decompression table.
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.
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:
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:
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.