A spinal decompression is a type of medical treatment, which is designed to relieve chronic back, neck and/or leg pain. It can be achieved through either surgical or non-surgical means and involves stretching the spine in order to reduce pressure on the nerves within the spinal column.
Patients suffering from a number of painful conditions can benefit from treatment involving a spinal decompression, with some of the most common examples including sufferers of herniated or bulging discs, spinal stenosis, sciatica or posterior facet syndrome.
Non-surgical spinal decompression is classed as a traction therapy and works by gently stretching the spine. The procedure is performed by strapping a patient to a computer controlled table, either face down or face up. A doctor then controls the table, customising movement based on the patient's condition and specific needs.
The aim of non-surgical decompression is to create negative pressure within the spine, reducing pressure on the discs and allowing herniated or bulging discs to retract. This, in turn, can relieve pressure in the nerves and allow for improved circulation of oxygen, water and other healing nutrients into the discs.
Generally, a non-surgical decompression treatment will last around half an hour, although it can take longer. Patients may require dozens of sessions in total and decompression can be used alongside various other treatments, such as hot or cold therapy or electrical stimulation.
However, it is worth noting that patients with a fracture, tumour or advanced osteoporosis do not make good candidates for non-surgical decompression of the spine. In addition, it is not usually considered to be a suitable treatment for pregnant women or people with metal spinal implants.
In some cases, a spinal decompression can also be performed through surgical means. Although it is usually used after other more conservative treatment methods have failed, it can be effective in relieving pain, weakness, numbness or other symptoms resulting from chronic spinal conditions.
There are various surgical decompression techniques available, including:
In addition to surgical decompression of the spine, patients undergoing this treatment may also require spinal fusion. Typically, recovery times from surgical decompression procedures are fast. That said, the surgical method brings with it a risk of infection, blood clots and in some instances, nerve damage.