Should You Choose Spinal Decompression Therapy Over Back Surgery?

Spinal Decompression

Nothing puts a cramp in your style like going to pick up a grandchild and feeling a searing pain in your lower back. Similarly, it’s no fun to sit down in a car or a plane and feel a screaming complaint in your lumbar or cervical region. And if you have to sit at a computer all day – hoo boy, you really can’t afford any pain at all.

Of course, no one wants to undergo surgery either. Far from healing your pain right away, back surgery can lay you out for anywhere from a month to six. If you’re young and healthy, you may get away with taking only 4-6 weeks off the job, estimates Medline Plus – and that’s assuming it’s not very physically demanding. If you’re older or you have a strenuous position, it’s probably going to be longer. We hear you asking, Isn’t there any other way?

Actually, there is: Enter spinal decompression therapy.

Many people wonder exactly what spinal decompression is and who is suited to it. If that’s you, and you’re hoping it might be your noninvasive surgery alternative, we’re here to give you the rundown on what it is, how it works and who it’s for. Whichever route you end up choosing, you deserve to do something to change your health, so get ready for a healthier, happier and more pain-free back.


What Is Spinal Decompression Therapy?


Spinal decompression is a process whereby a chiropractor or physician, with the help of a machine, stretches your back and releases multiple times, creating negative pressure in the discs between your vertebrae. By pulling the vertebrae themselves apart, the spine is no longer “compressed” or squished together. This enables significant healing of a broad range of spinal issues.


Why Spinal Decompression?


In order to understand how this really works and why, it’s important first to understand the architecture and function of discs. They are small, round, jelly-filled structures with a tough outer casing that sit between your vertebrae to cushion and protect them. They keep individual vertebrae from rubbing or scraping against one another as you move, and keep your spine healthy and flexible. 

However, over time and with repeated actions (think sitting, driving, bending and walking), discs may rupture, leaking viscous fluid out into surrounding structures. These can press on nerves and other tissues, resulting in a variety of symptoms uncomfortable to excruciating, including tingling, numbness, aches, inflammation and downright agony.

Though you may experience problems anywhere in your spine, from your upper neck to your tailbone, discs tend to suffer in the lumbar region especially. Decompressing the spine brings benefits to your back by relieving the pressure on discs.


How Does It Work?


Physicians and chiropractors use a relatively simple device to create decompression in the spine. The patient lies on a mechanized table, which has two independent parts that can move together and apart. The patient may be either facedown or faceup. One harness is attached to the person’s hips, while another is attached to the trunk.

Using a computer to control the movements of the table, the physician directs the treatment, moving the two pieces of table apart and back together again, gently stretching the individual’s spine. The procedure is not painful, though for the first few treatments, the stretching sensation might feel odd or foreign.

Decompression is not a one-time deal. Rather, the patient receives several recurring treatments over the course of weeks or months … sometimes dozens in just a few weeks. As time progresses, the disc fluid will be drawn inward by the negative pressure created, helping relieve pain and heal the area.


What Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Treat?


Spinal decompression can treat a huge range of symptoms, including:

  • Sciatica
  • Bulging discs, in which the disc is straining against its outer shell
  • Herniated discs, in which the pressures involves have created a rip or tear in the outer structure
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Posterior facet syndrome
  • Injured spinal nerves

… and more. Many people who don’t even have a specific back condition regularly undergo spinal decompression therapy to stretch and lengthen their spines, reliving the aches and pains that spring up as a result of everyday living. 


When Do You Need Spinal Surgery?


There are, of course, some cases in which decompression is not enough. Some people may experience a narrowing of the holes inside their vertebrae, through which the spinal cord passes, due to bone growth. This is known as spinal stenosis. Unfortunately, decompression cannot slow that growth.

While not as frequent, sometimes a bulging disc simply doesn’t respond to decompression and other treatments, in which case the only course of action may be surgery. In the end, the choice of spinal decompression therapy vs. surgery really comes down to whether or not the former is enough for you. If it is, great. If not, you may need to take more drastic action. The best idea is to speak to a doctor and get the help you need as soon as possible.

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