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Spinal Decompression 101

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

by Chris Dorsa, Chiropractic Intern

What is Spinal Decompression?

Spinal decompression is widely used in chiropractic and manual therapy as a conservative, non-surgical treatment approach to spinal injuries. 80 percent of adults will experience low back pain at some point in life. Most of the pain is mechanical in nature that may stem from muscle or ligament sprains, degeneration, vertebral disc injuries, stenosis or vertebral compression. All of these causes of low back pain may also lead to sciatica (pain down the leg). Spinal decompression works to relieve pain temporarily with the ultimate goal of complete healing.

How it works:

Spinal decompression involves a computerized table equipped to stretch the spine with controlled increments of pressure and time based on your body and condition. The table helps to facilitate faster healing by opening the joint space reversing the effects of gravity and relieving excess pressure on the spine. Spinal joints do not have a good blood supply, so they depend on movement to receive nutrients. But, when the body is injured it often becomes stiff to protect against further damage. Decompression introduces healthy movement back into the joints by creating the pumping effect needed for healthy movement to the injured region. This provides the injured area with increased hydration, nutrients, and oxygen to the injured disc, while also providing relief if there is degeneration present.

Who is a candidate?

With any injury, it’s important to start with a conservative approach before looking into more invasive treatments that may cause further harm. So, whether the injury is new or has been a chronic issue that needs to be dealt with, spinal decompression may be a good first approach. A spinal decompression table is equipped to treat both neck and low back pain and injuries. Settings can be tailored towards the severity and timing of the injury as well. Conditions that have shown greatest success with decompression include disc herniation, degeneration, stenosis, or facet syndrome. Even minor issues like soreness or tightness may be relieved.

What to expect:

Treatment with mechanical traction requires no physical exertion and is comfortable. Expect to be lying face up on the table for about 20 minutes. The table ensures secure fitting for all body types and is equipped to stretch the spine with controlled increments of pressure and time based on your body and condition. Sessions will be altered as progression is met. Many experience relief on the first session for less complex conditions, but several sessions may be required based on the severity of the case. The current standard of care recommends exercise and education in conjunction with most modalities like spinal decompression. So, expect your doctor to set you up with a proper game plan to overcome whatever your body may be going through.

If you have specific questions about spinal decompression, please email and one of our doctors can answer them for you.

Christopher Dorsa, DC, CCSP is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician. He is also certified in Active Release Techniques (ART) and Functional Range Conditioning (FRC). He is a certified personal trainer through NASM as well as a Kinstretch Coach. He integrates his training background into individualized care to provide the best form of treatment, rehab and education to facilitate healthy lifestyles and ultimately influence positive change in healthcare. Areas of special interest include shoulder and hip injuries, and performance mobility training.


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