What Is Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression?

Non-surgical spinal decompression (NSSD) is a non-invasive treatment for acute and chronic spinal pain resulting from herniated, ruptured, bulging, or degenerative discs and spinal stenosis. It is achieved though the use of specialized tables with computer control of the force and angle of disc distraction. This applied force to the disc of the spinal column gradually lengthens and decompresses the spine, creating a vacuum effect which reduces intradiscal pressure and muscle spasm of surrounding areas. Simultaneously, an osmotic gradient is created, which helps to bring nutrients and water into the disc to promote healing. The overall effect is restored normal spinal movement and function.

Inspired by his own back pan, Allan Dyer, MD, PhD, the former Deputy Minister of Health in Ontario, Canada, is credited with the development of non-surgical spinal decompression as well as the heart defibrillator. Although the idea of spinal decompression has been around since Greek antiquity, Dr. Dyer pioneered the modern computerized spinal decompression in 1991 after introducing the VAX-D. Although effective, his equipment was very expensive and treated only the low back with the patient lying face down. With the claim they are better than their competition, newer versions of spinal decompression machines continue to be manufactured. As with automobiles, all may look a little different, but essentially function the same way. To date, there haven’t been any published findings to show that any one is better than the other.

How Does Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Work?

Depending on the symptom presentation, the spinal decompression machine can be set up to focus the tension in the lumbar region or cervical region (neck). As determined by the doctor, the decompression machine will be set at a specific cycle. It begins by a slow logarithmic increase in tension, creating a negative pressure within the disc. Then, after a holding period, the machine will slowly release the tension, which is critical to avoid muscle guarding and spasm. The duration of the treatment will consist of alternating decompression and relaxation cycles, together achieving a therapeutic effect.

Spinal_Cord-DiagramUnder normal circumstances, the discs of the spine are under constant pressure so when an injury occurs, the rate of healing is greatly slowed. This pressure is measured in mmHG, just like a weather barometer. While you are standing, for example, the gravitational load from your upper body with the muscular tension in your spine creates 100mmHG of pressure within the discs of your lumbar spine. Even when you are lying down, the pressure still measures 75mmHG.

The vacuum effect created by the spinal decompression machine reduces the intradiscal pressure to approximately -160mmHG. This negative pressure repositions and draws in the jelly-like fluid of the disc (called the nucleus pulposus). Because the discs, like other cartilage in your body, do not have a direct blood supply, they rely on movement to receive their nourishment by a process called imbibition. This is attained by the vacuum effect of spinal decompression, thereby drawing moisture, nutrients, and oxygen back into the discs.

Chiropractic TableUse of an inversion table that utilizes gravity can help to reduce pressure on the discs of the lumbar spine and stretch the tight ligaments and muscles by over half (40mmHG); however, there are some significant drawbacks with treatment.

Although pain might start to subside within a few NSSD treatments, it is crucial to continue the recommended treatment regimen. Since any trauma to the disc will take time to heal, the lack of pain does not indicate a full recovery. Spinal decompression treatment frequency and duration is dependent upon on the patient’s condition and consists of about 12-25 sessions throughout a four to six week period. This form of treatment can be utilized in conjunction with other interventional procedures when trying to avoid surgery. Given the chance, non-surgical spinal decompression can help alleviate chronic neck and low back pain.

Who Is a Candidate for Spinal Decompression?

It is essential to first obtain an accurate diagnosis regarding your condition, since there are several structures of the spine that may be responsible for causing pain. It is worth noting that patients may have similar symptoms but different diagnoses and therefore should be treated differently. People suffering from bulging or herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, facet syndrome, stenosis, or those that have had a failed back surgery without hardware are all eligible candidates for non-surgical spinal decompression therapy.   Patients are not candidates for spinal decompression if they have surgical hardware, metatastic cancer, severe osteoporosis, recent vertebral fracture, are pregnant, or suffer from unstable spondylolisthesis.

-Dr. Chance Moore, Chiropractor

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