Spinal decompression is meant to provide relief from pinched nerves.
What is Spinal Decompression?
Spinal decompression refers to many procedures that are designed to alleviate pressure on pinched nerves in the spine. There are many things that can cause compression, such as bony growths, loose ligaments, bulging disks, or thickened joints. As a result, there is pressure on the nerve roots or spinal cord, causing irritation, weakness, numbness, tingling, pain, or unsteadiness. In the worse cases, bladder and bowel problems, or even paralysis, could result.1 There are surgical and non-surgical options for spinal decompression.2
There are various surgeries that are used for spinal decompression. Laminectomy and laminotomy refer to “removing a small part of the bony arches of the spinal canal, called the lamina”, either partially (laminotomy) or completely (laminectomy). Foraminectomy and foraminotomy are meant to “expand the openings for the nerve roots to exit the spinal cord by removing some bone and other tissue”. Corpectomy is the surgical removal of disks and the “body of a vertebra”. Osteophytes (bone spurs) could also be removed. A diskectomy removes part of a disk. All surgeries carry risks, including infection, clots, bleeding, tissue damage, nerve damage, or a reaction to the anesthesia. Hospital stays following the surgeries last days, and rehabilitation takes a long time. Even though pain is typically relieved for “80% to 90% of patients (it) does not correct the underlying degeneration of the vertebrae due to (the) wear and tear of aging”. Symptoms may, therefore, return.3
Non-surgical decompression involves “motorized traction” to stretch the spine gently and take pressure off of the disks. It is thought that the negative pressure “may cause bulging or herniated disks to retract”. As a result, removing this compression allows oxygen, nutrients, and water into the area to help the disks heal. This type of treatment is meant for many disorders, including degenerative disk disease, posterior facet syndrome, radiculopathy, sciatica, neck pain, and back pain. Treatments run 30 minutes, for about 20 sessions, over a month or so. The patient lies down on a “computer-controlled table” while the doctor customizes the treatment. Other therapies may be used in conjunction with the decompression, including heat and cold therapy, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Decompression therapy is not recommended for patients with fractures or tumors, in pregnant women, for those with osteoporosis or metal spinal implants, or in people who have “abdominal aortic aneurysm”.4 Chiropractors may include manual therapies with spinal decompression, such as the Graston Technique and Active Release Technique (ART), or they might use other options like deep tissue laser or “an effective core-strengthening program” to improve posture. Some patients may wish to invest in an inversion table for the home.5