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Spinal Decompression: Is it Worth the Money?

Spinal Decompression is a non-surgical, non-invasive, and cost effective treatment for disc pain in the neck and back. There are no needles, you do not get unclothed, and the treatments are perfomed quickly.

Those who suffer from neck and back pain commonly experience numbness, tingling, weakness, pain, and decreased function of the upper or lower limbs. These symptoms can be so debilitating that it affects sleep, work, and normal daily activities.

Extremity symptoms occur when the central disc material (Nucleus Pulposus) breaks through the protective outer disc rings (Annular Fibers) of the disc and move into the space occupied by a nerve or nerves that travel from the neck to the arm to the hand, or, from the back and down the leg to the foot or to the groin area. If you have a disc problem, you probably know how terrible these sypmtoms can be.

So What is Spinal Decompression?

Does Spinal Decompression really work? Can Spinal Decompression really keep you from having an invasive, painful, and expensive spinal surgery? The answer is yes, yes, and yes...but results do vary.

Spinal Decompression is the result of traction when negative pressure is created withini the disc during traction. There are different types of traction. One common type of traction is Intersegmental Traction. This is a common modality used by chiropractors and physical therapists. However, the first thing you should know is that "Spinal Decompression" is technically not a therapy. Spinal Decompression is a result of traction.

With IST, the patient is positioned on their back, on a table. The table has a "roller bar" that gently rolls up and down the spine, passively stretching the spinal joints and adjacent soft tissues. While this type of traction is benefical and feels good, it does not create spinal decompression because it does not creat a negative pressure in the disc. Other slang names for IST are "roller table" or "traction table."

The type of traction that creates Spinal Decompression (the kind that may prevent spine surgery) cannot be confused with Intersegmental Traction, or a "roller table." The mechanisms are completely different and produce completely different results. To acheive Spinal Decompression, this type of traction needs to be applied in long axis of extension. In other words, the spinal segments need to be gently pulled part, systematically and continuously, via a highly technological computerized traction system.

When this technique is applied, negative pressure is created within the disc allowing for the disc material that has moved away from the central part of the disc, and crowding a nerve, to be "sucked back in" and drawn back inside the disc, which takes the pressure off the nerve. Subsequently this results in reduced neck and back pain, reduced arm and leg pain, as well as promotes true healing of the disc. So, for lack of a better term, this type of traction is also referred to as "Spinal Decompression" - although it's the "traction" that causes the spine to decompress.

So Does Spinal Decompression Really Work?

The answer is yes. The alternative may be surgery, drugs, PT, chiro. If these types of treatments have failed then you could be a candidate for Spinal Decompression.

If you are considering surgery, the part of the disc that has moved out from the center of the disc and interferring with a nerve, is relieved by "cutting" or shaving part of the disc away or removing part of the vertbra to create room for the visiting part of the disc (Nucleus Pulposus of NP). A laminectomy or discetomy is performed and does cost a substantial amount of money. Often times, a patient is left with their own portion of the bill, in excess of $10,000-$15,000, and sometimes more, even after insurance pays their portion. Be advised that there are cases where surgery is the only acceptable treatment available. If a patient has tried chiropractic (not spinal decompression via traction, but manipulation), physical therapy, muscle stim, ultrasound,anti-inflam's, pain killers, and sypmtoms have not improved with conservative measures, then often times, surgery could be the only answer. A good orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon will not cut a patient open unless it is a medical necessity and/or PT, chiropractic have not worked. On the flip side, a good chiropractic physician will not perform Spinal Decompression (Traction) on a patient if it is not clinically warranted or if there are any contraindications to the patient with this type of therapy.

Spinal Decompression can cost anywhere from $100-$200 per visit and it usually takes about 20 visits to acheive the treatment goals. Essentially, $2,000-$4,000 is the cost for Spinal Decompression. The advantages are; no surgery, no discomfort, no down time as with surgery, and the results are very good, and for much less money.

If you have tried chiropractic manipulations, physical therapy, drugs, and you are at the end of your rope and do not want surgery, or have experienced a failed surgery, then Spinal Decompression" may be the treatment of choice.

Remember, just because it's non-invasive, non-surgical, does not mean there are no risks. There are certain conditions that will disqualify a patient from receiving this type of traction. An adequate physical examintion, x-rays, or even an MRI may be needed before Spinal Decompression can be performed.

As always, consult your primary care doctor before initiating any treatments whether at home or in a professional's practice.

Dr. Anthony Abbruzzese is a licensed chiropractic physician in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Abbruzzese obtained his Bachelor's Degree of Science in Human Biology and Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from National University of Health Sciences in Chicago, Ill.

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