Updated August 10, 2020Nearly 16 million adults experience chronic low back pain, forcing them to limit their daily living activities.Not only does back pain hinder our ability to properly perform our job, exercise, and do household chores, it also compromises our sleep. With so many adults experiencing such limitations, medical professionals are constantly finding new ways to treat back pain.An increasingly popular form of treatment is spinal decompression. In this article, we will discuss what spinal decompression is and if it is fit to alleviate your lower back pain.What Is Spinal Decompression?To define spinal decompression, we will need to briefly discuss the anatomy of the spine. Intervertebral discs refer to the gel-like cushions separating each vertebra, or bone in our spine. These discs consist of a tough exterior and supple interior that work together to protect the spinal nerve column and keep vertebrae separated during impact.As we age, the material in our discs degenerates, which can lead to bulging and herniated discs. These changes place excess pressure on other structures in our spine, like the spinal cord and nerves, causing neck pain in addition to low back pain and sciatica (weakness, tingling, or pain radiating down your leg). With proper treatment, these conditions can heal on their own. A common way to facilitate the healing process is spinal decompression.There are two types of spinal decompression: non-surgical and surgical. Both treatments work to relieve unwarranted pressure from the structures in our spine.Non-Surgical Spinal DecompressionNon-surgical spinal decompression is better known as spinal decompression therapy or Traction which is much more common than surgical decompression. Non-surgical spinal decompression is a type of traction therapy administered using a motorized, computer-controlled table. The therapy typically lasts anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and consists of 15 to 30 visits over a 4 to 6 week period.How Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Work?Depending on the type of spinal decompression table, patients lie either face down or face up on it. A harness is then strapped around their pelvis and attached to the lower end of the table, near their feet. Based on your specific needs, your doctor will use the computer controlling the traction table to select a decompression setting. Once a setting is selected, the lower table begins to move while the upper half remains stable. This movement stretches your spine in a controlled and intermittent manner.As your spine stretches, your vertebrae spread apart, and nutrient-rich fluid enters the discs to kickstart the healing process. In some cases, the additional space allows herniated or bulging discs to retract and return to a healthy position within the spine. Spinal decompression therapy is sometimes accompanied by electric stimulation, cold/heat therapy during or after the treatment, and ultrasounds.Non-surgical spinal decompression is used to treat neck pain, back pain, sciatica, bulging discs, herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, worn spinal joints, and injured spinal nerve roots. However, it may not be useful for the following patients:Pregnant womenAnyone who has undergone multiple back surgeries and found little to no pain reliefPatients with spinal fractures or tumorsAnyone with an artificial disc or another spinal implantPatients prescribed blood thinner medicationPatients with osteoporosisAnyone with a condition compromising their spine’s integritySurgical Spinal DecompressionSurgical spinal decompression is used as a last resort for patients who have undergone 3 to 6 months of varying treatment with little to no improvement. The surgery typically consists of a surgeon removing a bony growth or portion of any spinal disc placing excess pressure on a nerve.Research shows spinal decompression surgery to be highly effective with three out of four patients experiencing significant pain relief following the procedure. However, this surgery only takes place after conservative care has failed or when the patient has a progressive neurologic loss (progressive loss of muscle strength, reflexes, or cauda equina syndrome.Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Relieve Lower Back Pain?In 1991, Dr. Allan Dyer invented the VAX-D (vertebral axial decompression) table to revolutionize traction therapy with hopes of relieving anyone suffering from lower back pain. As a fairly new treatment for low back pain, the quick and non-invasive nature of the computerized table has been positioned as a choice for patients.Today, many medical professionals regularly recommend and conduct spinal decompression therapy. Still, others in the field question if non-surgical spinal decompression is truly preferable to other forms of treatment and pain management.This is because there seems to be a lack of evidence proving the therapy effective. Many studies suggesting the success of the FDA-approved therapy are criticized for one, or a combination of, the following reasons:The study did not have an adequate sample size (number of participants).The study did not include a placebo group—a group of participants who do not actually receive treatment.The study did not utilize blinding—not telling the participants whether or not they are a part of the placebo group.The study did not compare the effectiveness of spinal decompression therapy to other treatment options.Let’s examine the adequacy and deficiencies of a few of these clinical trials.Spinal Decompression Therapy StudiesOne study consisted of 296 participants experiencing lower back pain. During the study, the patients were administered 24-spinal decompression therapy sessions over a period of 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks, a majority of the patients reported significant pain relief.This experiment may very well indicate the efficacy of spinal decompression therapy. However, the researchers did not examine a random group of people undergoing a different form of treatment for low back pain nor did it have a control group that did not receive any therapies. Therefore, causal relationships between the outcomes and the intervention cannot be made. This suggests non-surgical spinal decompression is not more effective than other options.Another study consisting of 778 participants found a 71-percent success rate in lower back pain relief. However, the participants were also administered additional treatment, undefined by the researchers. It goes without saying the additional treatment may have been the reason behind their pain alleviation. The experiment also lacked a placebo group, making it difficult to tell if their knowledge of the therapy affected reported pain relief.The limitations of these studies do not necessarily indicate non-surgical spinal decompression is ineffective. They simply suggest further research is necessary to establish it as positively efficient to lower back pain relief.FAQIs spinal decompression therapy painful?Spinal decompression therapy stretches your spine which may feel odd at first, but you should never feel pain during or after your visit. In fact, most patients report feelings of relief and relaxation. Still, incorrect positioning or too much pull may cause discomfort. Therefore, many decompression tables include a safety button patients can press to stop the therapy if necessary.How can I decompress my spine at home?If you are experiencing lower back pain for the first time you can try spinal decompression at home. To do so, lie face down at the edge of your bed with only your head and shoulders hanging off. You will want to keep your arms facing down near each side of your body. Next, tuck your chin in toward your neck. If you do not feel a stretch, use the balls of your feet to push more of your upper body off the bed.If necessary, you can leave only your pelvis and legs supported by the mattress while your waistline upward hangs off. If you choose to do this, place your elbows and forearms on the floor, as if in a plank position, in order to adequately support your body weight. Hold the stretch for no longer than 30 seconds then repeat it three to five times.Dr. Douglas Krebs of Chicago Spine and Sports recommends another option, “Laying flat on your stomach, place your hands underneath your shoulders as if you were to do a push-up. From there using only your arms, press your chest up off the table letting your hips sag to the ground. Repeating this 5-6 times a day.”How long does it take for spinal decompression to work?You probably will not feel immediate relief within the first week of therapy. Most chiropractors and therapists report a notable reduction in patient pain after 4 to 8 sessions. However, with each patient comes unique circumstances and different levels of pain, so the time it takes for spinal decompression therapy to work varies.How should I sleep with lower back pain?If you have lower back pain, we suggest sleeping on your back with a pillow beneath your knees. This position naturally preserves the neutral position of your spine. If this does not work, you experience the pain chronically, or only at night, we suggest investing in a mattress for back pain.Most people have a difficult time maintaining proper posture throughout the day, nonetheless while asleep. That’s why a high-quality mattress will maintain it for you. Beds designed to prevent and alleviate back pain often include zoned support—a feature to optimize spinal alignment and prohibit you from settling into pain-causing positions.When should I be worried about lower back pain?If your low back pain does not subside after 4 weeks, consider seeking the advice of a medical professional. Here are a few other symptoms warranting a visit to the doctor:Your pain remains the same or worsens, even with rest.You experience tingling near your buttock.The pain extends to your legs.You lose control of your bladder.ConclusionSome medical professionals find the practices used in spinal decompression clinical studies inadequate, but some of the research has resulted in reported pain reduction. Still, it should be noted, no treatment for chronic back pain is guaranteed to work. In fact, some patients even undergo surgery without success. This does not mean the pain cannot be managed. If you are experiencing long-lasting lower back pain, we suggest pursuing the assistance and support of your doctor.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. 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