Alternative therapies

An Overview of Back Decompression

The Development of Back Decompression

Decades prior to the development of back decompression, the non-surgical treatment of choice for cervical and back pain is traction. Traction involves the use of weights to apply a longitudinal force to the spine to correct misalignments in the vertebrae and to relieve muscle spasms. However, traction has not been very effective in treating nerve compression, such as those in sciatica and herniated discs.

Defining it in the simplest of terms, back decompression therapy is a hi-tech, sophisticated version of traction, but with significant differences. Aside from the application of weights to produce corrections in vertebral alignment, the back decompression machine creates a strong negative pressure within the spinal canal, which serves the dual function of 1) sucking protruding and herniated materials back into the center of the intervertebral disc to relieve compression upon a nerve and 2) the suction of nutrients and fluids to the disc to promote healing, hydration and cell regeneration. In patients with degenerative disc disease as a result of osteoarthritis, an increase in fluids in the spinal canal aids in restoring disc height and normal spaces between the discs, thus lessening the friction between the vertebral joint surfaces.

Back Decompression Device

The back decompression device resembles a large table, similar to a CT or MRI scan machine, which is connected to an electronic console or computerized control system. The physical therapist or physician mans the controls of the back decompression table to monitor the logarithmic lengths of each decompression and relaxation cycle that the patient is subjected to. Each alternating cycle lasts one minute. Regular therapy consists of 15 alternating cycles, with a total duration of 30 minutes.

Spinal Decompression Therapy

Musculoskeletal conditions that have been found to benefit from back decompression therapy are…

  1. Herniated discs (both cervical and lumbar)
  2. Sciatica
  3. Degenerative disc disease
  4. Post Surgical Pain Syndrome or Failed Back Syndrome= back pain that persists even after surgical intervention
  5. Facet Joint Syndrome = pain resulting from the irritation of the joints of the back and spinal vertebrae

Back decompression therapy is contraindicated or has not been found to be effective in the following conditions…

  1. Osteoporosis
  2. Spinal stenosis = narrowing of the spinal canal
  3. Vertebral fractures
  4. Spondylolisthesis = forward displacement or slipping of one of the lower vertebrae over the vertebrae below it or the sacrum
  5. Ankylosing spondylitis = stiffening or fixation of vertebra and joints accompanied by inflammation
  6. Spinal tumors
  7. Spinal fusion with existing hardware (such as plates and screws)
  8. Pregnancy
Patient at non-surgical treatment of cervical spine in medical center

Two back decompression tables that can be found in most major hospitals are the Antalgic-Trek and the Extentrac Elite. However, a number of large medical institutions have been making the switch to more advanced and convenient devices, such as the VAX-D and the DRX9000.

Back pain patients who have not found relief from their symptoms are advised to consult with their doctors to see if they are ideal candidates for back decompression.

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