Spinal decompression is often confused with traction. It is a treatment for neck pain and back pain and is given to give relief from pain caused due to compression on one or many pinched nerves of the spinal cord. Spinal decompression can be achieved both with surgical intervention and non-surgical intervention. It is especially used to treat chronic pain conditions such as sciatica pain, spinal stenosis, disk bulge, disk herniation, degenerative spondylolisthesis, etc.
Non-surgical spinal decompression:
Non-surgical spinal decompression is a much more sophisticated form of manual traction which was used by physical therapists and chiropractors decades ago. It helps to relieve back pain by gently changing the force and positioning of the spine. The decompression helps to take off the pressure from the spinal disc which is a gel-like cushion in between the bones of the spine. When the pressure is removed water, oxygen and other nutrients freely reach the disk so that it heals.
Non-surgical spinal decompression technique is used to treat:
Sciatica pain: this pain ranges from mild-to-severe and is caused when there is compression in of the nerve roots located in the lower back. This leads to numbness, weakness, tingling sensation that radiates to the legs.
Bulging or herniated disk: When the normal cushion or gel-like padding between the vertebrae of spine ruptures due to degeneration or any other reason, the disk pushes out and put pressure on nerves. This eventually leads to symptoms of pain, numbness, weakness, tingling sensation etc. Spinal stenosis: When the pathways of nerves constrict and become narrow or clogged then they compress the nerves and ultimately lead to spinal stenosis. Trauma or injury: Motor vehicle accident or any other job-related or other accident may impact on the nerves or lead to injury to the nerves.
Spondylolisthesis: When one vertebra slips forward or is displaced, compression occurs and leads to back pain symptoms.
Piriformis syndrome: When the Piriformis muscle develop spasms and compresses and irritates the nerve then decompression treatment can be used. Degenerative disk disease: due to degeneration, normal wear and tear may occur and it may compress the nerve roots, resulting in back pain.
All these conservative decompression techniques do work in most cases, but if your pain persists for more than 6 weeks and if non-surgical treatment fails and movement becomes unbearable then you may consider surgical intervention for spinal decompression.
Surgical spinal decompression procedures are:
Microdiskectom or microdecompression: This surgery is used to treat lumbar herniated disks. In microdecompression, a portion of the disk that is compressing the nerve is removed so that extra space is created and the nerve heals. Spinal fusion: this procedure is performed when a disk wears out due to degeneration and is considered the last resort. In this two or more vertebrae are fused or joined together. Laminectomy: this involves surgical removal of herniated disk. It is an invasive technique where a small portion of the vertebrae bone is removed and this alleviates pressure on the pinched nerve. It is also known as open decompression surgery. Diskectomy: This involves surgical excision of diseased disk.
Your doctor will decide whether you need a surgical or non-surgical spinal decompression technique. But usually invasive techniques are used when all other conservative measures failed. Nonsurgical spinal decompression involves very little risk and for this therapy doctors generally treat with electric stimulation, ultrasound or heat and cold therapy. As no anesthesia or post-operative care is involved, the risk is very minimal.
The most common risks involved in surgical spinal decompression are infection, bleeding, blood clots, nerve or tissue damage, or allergic reaction to anesthesia. It is also not sure whether your back pain symptoms will be alleviated or not.
However, there is very little literature available which supports non-surgical spinal decompression therapy, it still has a large following and many clinics swear by it. With the latest advancement in techniques related to diagnosis, instruments, and new procedures a lot of improvement has been done in the existing treatments for spinal decompression.