Are you one of the many Americans who are suffering from back pain and live in fear of the words “spinal decompression”? Or do you take the opposite attitude and find that you have a spare room in your home filled with inversion tables, boots, and similar devices but find that you still have back pain?
These are the two most common reactions to what is known as spinal decompression, with very few people taking the middle road.
Should you be afraid of spinal decompression? Is spinal decompression effective? Are inversion tables OK or should spinal decompression at the chiropractor be the norm?
What Does Decompression of the Spine Mean
Before we can answer these questions, we first need to know what spinal decompression means.
In short, this term refers to a type of traction therapy where the spine is gently pulled to create space and/or to negate pressure, such as in the case of a herniated or bulging disc.
There is a means of spinal decompression that involves surgery, but in this article, we will be discussing the nonsurgical aspect.
How Spinal Decompression is Performed
You might be wondering how chiropractors accomplish this.
Only after performing a complete exam, conducting tests if needed, such as x-rays, and determining a diagnosis, a chiropractor will most likely perform adjustments, then place you on a specialized table that consists of two parts. The top half of the table does not move, while the bottom half can move back and forth. You are placed in a special type of harness to keep you in the proper position. The chiropractor will make settings to the computer program that will work best for your situation. The table does the rest of the work.
Each session lasts between 25 and 45 minutes and is completely painless. Many people state that they feel some relief after only one session, but most people need several sessions to find complete relief.
Is This Treatment Effective?
For the overwhelming majority of people, yes, it is. Even studies back this up, with one 2016 study finding that subjects who had this type of therapy had less pain even 2 years after having treatment.
This treatment works by gently stretching the spine, changing the force and position of the spine. By creating negative pressure in the discs, it removes pressure off of the nerves, greatly reducing pain and allowing healing to take place.
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How Do They Do Spinal Decompression at Home?
People who prefer to try this type of treatment at home use devices called gravity boots or inversion tables.
These devices strap onto the ankles and then allow you to either hang upside down from a bar positioned above a doorway or to flip the bed like “table” upside down. This uses the forces of gravity to gently pull on the spine using your own body weight. If you are interested in Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab’s spinal decompression therapy, Juneau residents can enjoy our same-day, 10-minute, and get-a-ride promises.
Inversion Table Problems
While some people claim that these devices have helped relieve them of back pain, they can be dangerous for certain people.
- Dangerously High Blood Pressure
Hanging with inversion boots can greatly increase your blood pressure, even when hanging for just three minutes. Most people use these types of devices for 20-minutes at a time. If you have high blood pressure or if you are consuming anticoagulant drugs, you should not use these devices.
- Eye Pressure Issues
Inversion therapy also increases the amount of pressure in the eye, with one study finding that it doubled the pressure inside the eye. Increased pressure in the eye can lead to glaucoma. If you have glaucoma, macular degeneration, ocular hypertension, or other eye problems, you should avoid these home inversion tables.
- Not Suitable for Everyone
Other people who should not use inversion deices include those who have any condition where pressure might make problems worse, including hernias, osteoporosis, bone fractures, ear or eye infections, retinal detachment, pregnancy, obesity, or any type of cardiovascular problem.
Can Spinal Decompression Help with Spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis is a condition where the vertebra of the spine slips forward. Some patients are excellent candidates for spinal decompression, others are not. Your chiropractor will need to determine if your particular circumstances will make you a good candidate for spinal decompression.
The Pros and Cons of Spinal Decompression
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons even to a helpful nonsurgical type of therapy such as spinal decompression.
- No addictive/digestive tract damaging drugs are involved
- No invasive surgery
- Painless treatment method
- Extremely safe
- Addresses the underlying structural problem causing pain
- Far less muscles spasms
- Quickly reduces pain levels
- Can be costly if insurance does not cover the treatment
- Takes more than one session to be 100% successful (time-consuming)
Who Should Not Have Spinal Decompression Treatments?
Your chiropractor will ultimately decide whether or not you are a good candidate for this procedure, however, generally speaking, the following conditions are known to not tolerate this type of treatment.
- Metal implants in the spine
- Advanced stage of osteoporosis
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Pregnant women
- Bone Cancer
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Recent spinal or abdominal surgery
What Can Spinal Decompression Help With?
- Herniated discs
- Bulging or protruding discs
- Facet Syndrome
- Spinal Stenosis
- Disc Degeneration
If you are in doubt, don’t be afraid to speak to your chiropractor about your unique situation and whether or not this type of painless treatment can help you.
Are You Afraid of Spinal Decompression?
There really is no need to fear this common type of treatment. You might worry that lying flat on a table will make your back hurt worse, but keep in mind that the table is adjustable and well-padded. If you experience any discomfort, you can speak to the chiropractor, who will make adjustments that will keep you more comfortable. Many people find that this treatment is relaxing and falling asleep on the table is not at all uncommon!
Facts about Back Pain and Life
If you have chronic back pain and you have been avoiding seeing the chiropractor, but you have a closet filled with inversion boots, healing balms, essential oils, lumbar support pillows, massaging chair pads, and other types of “miracle cures”, it’s time to face facts; there is NO miracle cure.
Everyone needs help now and then, but if your back is hurting and your friend wants you to help them move this weekend, what are the chances that you will say yes? A lack of rest when your body clearly needs it will lead to bigger problems if you don’t address them quickly.
You might be one of the “wait and see” types. Everyone understands this posture, right? How many times do you make a doctor’s appointment only to find that, two weeks later, the problem just goes away on its own? Taking a wait and see approach when you have some back or neck pain is understandable until that “I’ll wait until Monday” deadline hits a three month or six-month marker, then you are just procrastinating.
Yep, you can always take the weekend off and see if that pain goes away. Just don’t overdo it. Resting too much is even worse than not resting at all!
However, our best piece of advice is to not wait until a small problem becomes a larger one. Those “little things”, like low back pain, often end up playing a bigger role than you ever imagined. Not paying attention to those little annoyances can often come at a heavy price.
You also shouldn’t put off enjoying life because of back pain. If your back or neck pain hasn’t improved or seems stuck after more than two weeks, chances are that it isn’t going to go away on its own.
Oh, and your friend who promises that they can “crack” your back just as good as any chiropractor? Chances are that they are going to do more damage to your back than you did already.
You can make back pain a part of your identity, always believing that you can’t do something or go somewhere because “my back hurts” or “that would kill my back” or you can see a chiropractor and watch your body heal itself, almost like magic.
The Bottom Line
Whether you are a good candidate for spinal decompression or not, your chiropractor can help relieve your back or neck pain, as well as finding the root cause of your pain so it doesn’t return. Anchorage patients can count on our top-rated chiropractors at Better Health Chiropractic.
Spinal decompression therapy isn’t for everyone, but chances are that your chiropractor has a treatment that is perfect for you.
If you found this article helpful, please feel free to share it on social media or via email.
Do you want to know if spinal decompression can help you? At Better Health Chiropractic and Rehab, we offer a unique program for dealing with back pain called the Alaska Back Pain Protocol. Call one of our 4 clinics for a same day appointment to find out if you are a candidate for this program. You can also make an appointment online by clicking here.
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About the Author
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using services designed to help give long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.