Spinal Decompression Therapy and Surgical Procedures 

Spinal Decompression

If you suffer from ongoing back pain and other related symptoms, then you know how chronic pain can significantly affect your life. Often, you’ll be unable to focus on anything other than how you can find relief. Some people turn to spinal decompression as a nonsurgical way to treat chronic back pain.

While for some, physical therapy, stretching, and routine exercises, followed by weight loss, can actually help to improve back pain and ongoing issues, for others, additional treatments are needed. This is especially true if the patient is suffering a major change in their mobility, or if they notice that the pain worsens over time.

Decompression therapy is a type of treatment that involves using a traction table to stretch the spine. The goal for this type of treatment is to relieve leg and/or back pain. This procedure is also referred to as nonsurgical spine decompression. Devices used for this type of treatment all use the same spinal traction principle that’s offered by osteopaths. Both decompression and traction therapy are applied with the goal of promoting an ideal healing environment, while also significantly reducing pain that’s caused by herniated, degenerating, or bulging discs.

How Nonsurgical Decompression Treatment Works

During decompression treatment, the spine is intermittently relaxed and stretched in a controlled manner.

This type of treatment is designed to promote repositioning or retraction of the bulging or herniated disc by creating a negative intradiscal pressure. Treatment can also result in an influx of healing nutrients directed to the disc.

While many patients who have tried this type of therapy found it effective, there’s still a lack of evidence that can support its effectiveness. Unfortunately, there have not been any controlled studies to determine whether or not consistent treatment can help chronic back pain sufferers.

During treatment for lumbar spine pain, a patient will lie on a motorized table. A harness is attached to the lower portion of the table and a harness is placed around the patient’s hips. The upper portion of the table will remain in a fixed position as the lower portion slides back and forth. This motion is designed to provide relaxation and traction.

Some devices used for spine decompression will require the patient to lie face up, while others require the patient to lie in a facedown position. Sessions can also include additional treatments such as cold and heat therapy or electric stimulation.

The treatment itself will not cause the patient pain, although they will feel a tight stretch in the spine.

Length of Treatment

This type of spinal therapy may be recommended for a variety of lower back pain conditions including sciatica. Initially acupuncture for sciatica is recommended as the first step in treatment, however, many physicians feel that the combination of decompression therapy and acupuncture are effective in relieving pain by reducing the amount of pressure that’s placed on the sciatic nerve.

While the risks associated with decompression treatment are low, as we have mentioned, there is currently no clinical evidence that shows how effective this type of therapy really is.

Typically, the therapy will consist of twenty to thirty treatments, each of which will last about half an hour up to forty-five minutes. Treatments are performed over the course of one month.

The cost of each session can range from fifty dollars up to two hundred dollars per session. While an insurance company will cover the costs for traditional traction treatments, decompression therapy is not often covered, even though the therapies are very similar.

People who can benefit from nonsurgical decompression treatment include people with metal implants in the spine, patients suffering from advanced stages of osteoporosis, herniated or bulging discs and people with a diagnosis of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

How Surgical Decompression Treatment Works

Nonsurgical Decompression Treatment

Surgical decompression is another option, but it’s typically a last resort. If nonsurgical treatment doesn’t work, your physician may recommend surgery. Surgery is often the preferred treatment method for patients suffering from ruptured or bulging discs, bony growths, or any other type of spinal condition.  Surgery will help to relieve many of the symptoms caused by increased pressure on the nerves in the spine or the spinal cord, including weakness, pain, tingling, and numbness.

Your physician may recommend surgery to relieve the pressure on your spine. In addition to surgery, you may also need spinal fusion for spine stabilization.

The most common types of back surgery include:

Discectomy: A procedure in which a portion of the disc is removed in order to relieve the pressure placed on the nerves.

Laminotomy: A small portion of bone is removed to increase the spinal canal size in order to relieve pressure.

Foraminotomy: Tissue and bone are removed to expand nerve root openings.

Osteophyte: This procedure involves the removal of bony growths.

Laminectomy is by far the most common type of decompression surgery performed each year. During this procedure, the bone located in the back of the vertebra called the lamina is removed. Spine fusion surgery is often recommended after a laminectomy in order to achieve optimal decompression of the nerve root.

Microdiscectomy is the most minimally invasive surgical option. This procedure is done in order to minimize the pain that’s associated with nerve root irritation. With this procedure, a very small incision measuring at around one inch is made in the lower back. The portion of the herniation that’s in contact with the nerve root is removed. The goal with this type of procedure is to reduce the symptoms associated with nerve root compression and it actually has an incredibly high success rate of ninety-five percent. Often, patients will experience immediate pain relief upon waking after surgery. If neurological symptoms were present prior to the procedure the patient can expect a longer recovery time. They may also continue to feel numbness or weakness for a period of several months after the surgery. For some, their symptoms may improve but may not entirely disappear.

Both types of surgeries are usually covered by health insurance, although it can take several months for your insurance to approve of the procedure.

Surgery Risks

Like with any surgery, there is some risk involved. Here are some of the most common risks associated with decompression surgery:

•    Blood clots

•    Infection

•    Tissue damage

•    Bleeding

•    Nerve damage

Additionally, the surgery itself may not be effective in reducing back pain. Often, it’s difficult to determine whether or not a patient will benefit from decompression surgery.